Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Schools warned over equality law

Schools may be open to legal action if they do not do more to help boys catch up with girls, according to a report commissioned by the Scottish Executive.

Currently girls outperform boys at every stage in their education.

The study said schools and local authorities should give specific attention to the issue in light of forthcoming legislation on equality.

But the executive insisted there would be no question of prosecutions as long as children had equal opportunities.

Researchers at Glasgow and Strathclyde universities found that gender issues were often becoming "lost or fudged" within a school's broader approach to social inclusion.

They pointed out that the new UK-wide Equality Bill, due to come into force next year, would make discrimination on the basis of gender illegal.

The report states: "Schools and authorities should check that, where necessary, specific attention is given to issues of gender in relation to learning and teaching.

"Indeed, this may be essential in the light of the forthcoming legislation on equality.

"Part 3 of the Bill makes discrimination on the basis of gender illegal, and authorities will have to take cognisance of this in their policies and procedures."

An executive spokesman said the key factor was that boys and girls must be given equal opportunities.

He added that there was no question of councils being prosecuted if, despite this, boys' attainment failed to improve.

Professor of Education at Glasgow University Eric Wilkinson has assessed 1,200 pupils throughout Scotland and found that girls outperformed boys on eight "baseline assessment" categories, including maths, reading, writing and physical co-ordination.

Prof Wilkinson told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme that in the past 30 years girls had surged ahead, even in pre-school assessments, driven on by an attitude of new opportunities for women.

The professor believes it would be "regrettable" if there was any suggestion schools could be blamed for what is a wider social and parenting issue.

He said: "It's absolutely fantastic as far as the girls are concerned - we have to persuade the boys to catch up - wherever you come across a boy making a statement 'I can't be bothered' that has to be challenged."

Councillor Ewan Aitken, the education spokesman for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, said it was important to stress that boys could catch up, particularly by the end of secondary school.

He said: "I think it's a lot more to do with the pressure that we put on boys in particular, or boys put on themselves, there's a real issue of peer pressure here.

"We're going to see much more of a focus on the needs of each individual child, which is a good thing, and as a consequence the child's gender will not be the issue."

Source: BBC

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