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Feminism must pay attention to the boys let down by our education system

4 February 2014

12:39 PM

4 February 2014

12:39 PM

The Universities and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS) has released its latest admission statistics, and they aren’t pretty. Of the 580,000 people that applied for places at British institutions, 333,700 of them were women. Only 246,300 men applied, a difference of 87,000. The figures show that the gender gap is particularly wide among poorer households.

Perhaps this is some small victory for the women’s movement – after all, more women in tertiary education means more women with decent career prospects. But what about the men? If feminist ideology defends equal political, social and economic rights for women, then by that token, they should want equal political, social and economic rights for men. Equality can’t be lopsided.

So UCAS’s data looks pretty rum: somewhere along the line, boys are being deterred from going to university. But at which point are they being put off? When faced with a personal statement? Perhaps. But the likelihood is that they are deterred earlier on, given that our school system has tended to favour girls.

Fraser Nelson has written in the Telegraph about how sexual inequality has reversed in Britain in recent years: ‘We’re witnessing the continuation of a long trend. Girls overtook boys for school exam performance in the 1980s and outnumbered them in universities in the 1990s,’ he said.

It’s true. The current school system is skewed to suit female traits. Educational psychologists consistently find that girls tend to have higher standards in the classroom, and are more critical of their own performance. With a system that values continuous assessment and coursework, it’s no wonder conscientious girls can achieve highly. They perform well under these conditions, and head onwards and upwards through GCSEs, A-Levels and on to university. If I compare my achievements at school with those of my two younger brothers, it’s clear that the  system suited me far better than them: it landed me with A*s and As, while my more impulsive, boisterous brothers ended up with the occasional E. But intelligence can be measured in many ways – I was just lucky that the current system measured mine auspiciously. But in a different system, one that perhaps favoured a more physical, active style of learning, our grades may have been reversed.

With the school system skewed towards academic rewards for girls, it’s not surprising that more women are carrying on to university. But if we care about gender equality, then we have a problem on our hands. Because any feminist worth their salt will see that a system that gives the upper hand to one sex over the other is flawed.

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