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Example Answer for Question 5 Paper 1: AS Sociology, June 2017 (AQA)

AS, A-Level

Last updated 17 May 2017

Question 5. [20 marks]

Girls today outperform boys throughout school.  There are several sociological explanations for why this might be, and why this has changed in the last twenty to thirty years, before which boys tended to outperform girls.

 According to Item A, sociologists disagree about whether differences in achievement between boys and girls is due to changes in the wider society or processes that occur in school.  In terms of girls outperforming boys, one possible explanation for this is the change in women’s role in society at large.  Sue Sharpe conducted a study in 1994 which concluded that girls today had very different priorities from their mothers and grandmothers.  Instead of prioritising marriage and family, they prioritised careers and financial independence.  This can be seen in the context of legislative changes in the 1970s (such as the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act) and the successes of the feminist movement in making society more equal in terms of gender.  This coincides with changes in family structure (such as Wilmott and Young’s idea of symmetrical families) and changes in the economy (more service sector and public sector jobs and a decline in manufacturing and manual labour).  This could easily go some way to explain why girls are now performing better in school, as they see education as a realistic route to success and financial independence. 

The impact of globalisation on the UK economy has arguably had a negative impact on traditional male occupations with career paths being less clear than in the 1960s and 1970s.  As such, some argue that boys are increasingly disengaged from school because they don’t see a future for themselves in traditionally male occupations.  However, a counter-argument to that is that qualifications may be of more importance to boys now than when they could expect jobs in traditional manufacturing and primary industries.  While changes that have made society more equal in terms of gender might explain why girls no longer lag behind boys, they are less clear on why boys are not able to succeed where girls do.

The opening sentence of the item implies that these differences are apparent before children start the process of secondary socialisation in school. This may be due to primary socialisation in which feminine gender roles coincide with educational success.  Girls are expected to be more compliant, calm and diligent than boys are; to behave well and even to read and write more than boys.  This, combined with economic and social changes that mean that girls can now achieve more out of educational success, could explain gender differences in achievement.  However, some sociologists would suggest that these gender norms support a particular form of modern education, and therefore it is changes in education and assessment that have brought about this difference, rather than changes in society.  Mitsos and Browne, for example, argue that there has been a feminisation of education. They referred, for example, to the predominance of female teachers in primary schools, providing positive role models for girls. Others have pointed out that GCSEs, when first introduced, included a lot of coursework which girls tend to perform better in as they tend to be more meticulous and careful.  However, coursework has been decreasing as a feature of A Levels and GCSEs in recent years and female performance has remained high and above males.

Other issues and processes within schools that could explain the differences between male and female performance could be labelling: negative labelling of boys as troublemakers and positive labelling of girls as model students.  Sociologists such as Jackson (1998) have identified that schools having higher expectations of girls, both in terms of behaviour and attainment.  Related to this is the issue of anti-school subcultures.  Although Willis was mainly interested in the social class of the children he studied, it is important to note that they were ‘the lads’.  The combination of negative labelling and anti-school subcultures has an impact on the nature of interactions between teachers and male and female pupils.  Most teacher interactions with girls are about teaching and learning whereas, according to Swann and Graddol (and others), most teacher interactions with boys are about behaviour management.  However, this might be less to do with processes in schools and more to do with gender socialisation at home and through the media.

In conclusion, then, there are clear differences between girls and boys in education in terms of their achievement. Girls are outperforming boys across the board and this appears to be not due to a ‘feminisation’ of education, but instead due to equality in society and higher expectations, compared with norms and values that are more consistent with educational success.

Pleas Note: These answers have been produced without the knowledge of the mark scheme and merely reflect our attempt at producing an example answer on the day of the exam. Naturally, there are many different possible answers to this questions and students should not worry if their answer(s) is different to ours.

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