GCSE Reforms: Bad for Girls?

June 13, 2013, 8:21 AM GMT+0

Women are more likely than men to say coursework was their strong point at school, but more than a quarter of men say they didn't do much exam revision at all

The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, has announced that GCSEs will be replaced by a new system of exams that will focus on end of year tests – reducing or removing modular exams and coursework – classic literature, British history and algebra. Mr Gove says the reforms will put an end to coursework that has become "corrupted by cheating", but the reforms are opposed by those who claim exams merely test memory.

Prior to Mr Gove’s announcement, a different argument was made: GCSE reforms “will discriminate against girls”, because girls do better at coursework. A speaker at a conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said that he believes that increased coursework, particularly in the sciences, is a major reason for improved performance at GCSEs among girls.

The latest YouGov research shows that the biggest differences between men and women at school appear in their approach to revision. 38% of women say that they regularly revised according to a plan, while only 27% of men said the same. In fact, 27% of men say that they didn't do much revision at all - compared to 19% of women.

Women do indeed report a preference for coursework over exams, though the divide on coursework is not so dramatic. 36% say that they were better at coursework, 26% equally good at both and only 21% say that they were better at exams. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to report having been better at exams, with 26% saying that they were better at exams. Nevertheless 30% still said that they were better at coursework.

The Minister for Education has said that the new system of exams will challenge a “cram-and-forget” culture, of which the poll finds evidence: overall, a third (34%) of the public say “I used to not do much until the last minute, and then cram as much as I could”. While this is balanced by another third of the public (33%) who say “I used to plan my revision out in advance and do it regularly”, a quarter (23%) say they “didn’t really do much revision at all”.

Mr Gove’s reforms come after a previous attempt to replace the GCSE system with the English Baccalaureate, and hand each of the core subjects to just one exam board, which was scrapped over concerns that it would be in breach of European Union rules on public services contracts.

See the full poll results

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