Huge Gender Gap In Young Childrens Abilities Education Essay

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Such a series of events is profoundly relevant to the question of the appropriate care, nurture and educational upbringing of children throughout the United Kingdom, and indeed globally. The selection of this topic affords a critical examination of the justification for such a formal approach as EYFS requires, as well as the deductions made concerning young boys and the institutional and political responses which follow. In any event, understanding education in the early years is a complex problem according to Schmidt (1998:9), yet assisting gender identity remains a vital step in this period (Tassoni 2003:98). Futhermore, inclusion in education rightly understood celebrates difference, by understanding and harnessing it (Corbett 2001: 23).

The assembled data predates the inception of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), which was implemented in 2008, and is the result of informal early years' teacher and childcare observations which were collected seemingly for political purposes to support the educational reforms impacting young learners. The EYFS, as the House of Commons committee report (2009) indicates, replaced the earlier "loose national curriculum framework for early years provision... introduced in 2000 and the 2002 guidance for younger children known as Birth to 3 Matters" (House of Commons 2009:13).

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The nature of the difference in educational gender outcomes for boys and girls in these early years is linked to the philosophy of the new Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). While its intention is to foster children's physical, intellectual, emotional and social development, according to the Guardian's article, the EYFS plan also specifies learning goals or outcomes for this young age group, an attempt to impose universal achievement standards for formal educational programs and processes up to age 5 years. This notion of benchmarking the young has not surprisingly drawn a great deal of criticism and consternation from most stakeholder constituencies, not least parents, educational leaders and some politicians. Additionally, lest the irony is entirely lost, it is notable that the stakeholder group at the epi-centre of this controversy, namely the young boys and girls themselves, remains voiceless and subject to the political will of the government of the day, who determine what lies in each child's educational best interest. Certainly the emphasis upon pedagogical favouring of girls over boys has come a long way since 1901, when some educationalists were advocating sports classes for girls (Journal 1901:246).

The formalisation of educational standards and mandatory curriculum for children in the age 4-5 bracket attracts widely different opinion and sharply divided emotion. The debate centres around the irrational fear that a certain degree of fast tracking is either necessary to ensure British children generationally catch up to the world's most advanced educated children, or conversely, that the imposition of educational regimen by age 5 or before, will essentially steal the child's childhood. Disciplined, imposed learning in the 3-5 age bracket may supplant natural curiosity, vibrant creative play and the formation of the sub-structures which make drilled skills acquisition such as writing and reading more accessible to most children. This fact-tracking, in terms of shifting boys and girls quickly from an informal enjoyment of play and fostering of curiosity, to the formalisation brought by EYFS, favours girls and their developmental capacities to manage more tightly structured learning environments (see Harris 2008). Boys at this age favour informal loosely structured learning environments. Rendel and Ashworth (2005:71) note that this is a prolonged pattern, where even at university level, while males still occupy traditional male course types and females traditional female courses, the pattern is changing. Curtis and O'Hagan (2003:198) note the evidence that early years' education has a life-long effect, while Allan (2003:79) notes its democratic imperative and Arnot et al (2001:59) notes the long term aim to close the gender gap.

This tension is at the heart of the feminisation of education debate, a pendulum swing against earlier decades where education was more traditionally masculine and girls were seen to be disadvantaged (Salisbury 2000: 27). Now, the emphasis upon structure, discipline, neatness, completion and the creative imagination, rather than the factual concrete world in which children operate, is seen to favour girls and disadvantage boys. Piaget championed this notion that children begin at a pre-operational level of thinking and move progressively to more abstract levels of thought (Piaget et al 1969:96). As Francis (2005:88) notes, the feminisation of education means several things including the disproportionate number of females teaching children, particularly in his age bracket, while Sax (2009) notes that while sex differences pertaining to education is a controversial matter, the brain appears to be organised differently in females compared with males. Further, Sax (2009b) notes the American kindergarten by comparison is also now organized to favour girls, as the daily routine is far more highly structured today than 30 years, when boys could engage in a broader variety of active pursuits.

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The strongest philosophical voice against the EYFS program would be the advocates of natural learning, who rightfully observe, that while valuable learning can and does occur within the confines of a classroom, the world at large is an even more powerful classroom for most children's development. In this sense, while the EYFS remit is to foster the child's holistic development, ironically one of the best ways this can be realised, is by permitting the children to explore new and meaningful stimuli outside the bounds of the school classroom of nursery.

It is gratifying to hear voices raised in dissent with the tenor of the EYFS and its implementation at a House of Commons 2009 committee presentation on the National Curriculum in Britain and its extension into the early foundational years of life. Among the dissenting voices, it was noted that while "children's learning and development in the formative years is crucial for laying a strong foundation for later schooling, the early years foundation stage is too proscriptive, bureaucratic and damaging to innovation and diversity in provision. EYFS needs, at the very least, to be drastically rethought, and consideration should be given to its abolition. Instead of fixed learning goals, the Department should facilitate enhanced research" (House of Commons 2009), to empower practitioners.

In part, this rejoinder against formalising education for young children (3-5), is a call for reason and solving a cultural cringe in an appropriate manner, rather than bureaucratising it or denying its existence. The Guardian's focus upon gender based educational inequity and the need to rectify the difference to close the gender gap, while perhaps capturing the sentiments of the media, some parents and politicians, would leave competent teachers mystified that such apposite truths had not been previously accepted and addressed through flexible curriculum delivery.

Indeed, the over-proscription of pacifying and concentration inducing medications in boys, exposes in my view a deeper need within the system, namely the accommodation of pedagogical styles to suit boys' developmental needs and how their learning style may differ from that of girls.

In accordance with the DCSF (2009 ) guidelines, the early years Foundation Stage (EYFS) is comprised of six areas of Learning and Development which include Personal, Social and Emotional Development; Communication, Language and Literacy; Problem Solving, Reasoning and Numeracy; Knowledge and Understanding of the World; Development and Creative Development. While these identified areas are pedagogically and psychologically appropriate for the assistance of the growth and development of a child, the expectations for assessment may become problematic, particularly if gender based data comparisons is one undisclosed outcome. The EYFS website certainly does not indicate such conclusions as gender performance comparability will be made. The assessment framework for the EYFS, assessment is reasonably defined as "the decisions you make using what you have observed about a child's development and/or learning" (DCFS 2009). Where the emphasis of assessment is innocuously upon noting individual children's interests and abilities known as formative assessment to gain information to guide pedagogical decisions, the developmental differences based upon gender or individuality in the 0-5 age group can be accommodated. The problem area that raises the spectre of politicising early childhood education in Britain, concerns the misuse of summative assessment, where the achievements of each child reaching the end of the EYFS as summed and for some with additional needs, an effort is made to construct the so called Common Assessment Framework (CAF) for each child (DCFS 2009). While such summative EYFS assessment data should be utilised by Stage 1 educators to inform their pedagogy, and to provide parents with a description of achievement in the indicative learning areas as outlined by the DCFS (2009) learning and development guidelines, the tone of the DCFS reports within the Guardian article makes plain, that such data is being used to justify the government's investment in the formalization of the early years program, by making comparisons between pre and post EYFS achievement outcomes for young children. Children's Minister Dawn Primarolo has asserted that "I am pleased to see the improvements in young children's achievement last year, with 21,000 more children reaching a good level of development and I am particularly pleased to see that the lowest-achieving children have not only kept pace but improved faster than the rest" (Guardian 2009). This is a problematic statement in the least, since the EYFS was only implemented in September 2008, so it is not possible to at once use it as a summative expression of 'graduating' EYFS pupils attainment, as well as a comparison with previous achievement under the government's prior system, in which learning outcomes for 0-5 year olds were not tracked by nursery school teachers with this degree of rigour. Indeed, there will need to be at least 5 years it would seem, before such measures become even superficially meaningful, to make global comments about the gender gap closing or lower achieving students catching up to higher achievers, as is asserted by minister Primarolo.

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Ofsted soon after the implementation of EYFS in September 2008 justified its existence on the basis that is raised the standards of care in nurseries throughout Britain, noting that:

"all childcare providers who will deliver the EYFS will now also have to think about the development and early learning of children in their care. This is something many carers already do, but it's now recognised and set out in a single framework, and considered through a single inspection process" (Ofsted 2008).

The obligation placed upon child care providers was enforced by the statutory framework, alluded to earlier when reference was made to the guidelines for assessment, learning and development. While Koch (2005: 152) also promotes assessment as a gender equity tool for the early years within the Australian context, the fact remains that socially and perhaps genetically, developmental gender based differences may predispose boys and girls to different learning rates and styles.

The broader societal perspective needs to be closely examined, since the government's blueprint for early years education, lacks the plausible rationale for justifying why children below age 5, should be subjected to any kind of systematised formal assessment process at all. Implied reasons include the need to formalise as an antedote to British overall poor educational outcomes at the end of Stage 3 or Stage 6, relative to other leading European nations. The intensification of learning at EYFS is viewed as setting the child on the right footing to ultimately catch up with Europe and not merely Britain's most able. A second implicit rationale for the implementation of EYFS, is the outcry against low literacy levels and the prevailing economic rationalist agenda, which poses most national social policy development within the framework of end product demonstrable outcomes and financial accountability.

The imposition of the corporatisation of education, like in other social fields, muffles the voice of vital dimensions of personal and individual growth. As education becomes overly fixated upon quantifiable outcomes of pupil attainment, even at such a nascent age, the unquantifiable value of play and resilience building become devalued. There is wisdom in not commencing comparative assessment of any kind prior to age 8, to assist the building of personal resilience within all children. The individual developmental cycle of children is so apparent at the early age, that summative assessment can in real terms express the child's natural developmental point, rather than a measure of attainment. In this sense, the building of identity within children based upon acknowledged self-expression and the affirmation of their social skills, would appear to be an emotionally and psychologically healthier platform, upon which to focus the early years of education. Play cannot be under-rated, for firing the imaginative and curiosity capacities of a child. Nor can it be systematised or converted into a political commodity for international comparison.

The chosen media report claiming a wide gender gap in learning attainment skills by age 6, implies it is clearly problematic for boys, if not outright unjust, to begin Stage 1 lagging behind girls in certain fundamental learning related skill areas, such as writing, reading and creativity. Yet the unspoken and unstated concurrent reality is that educational development is contingent upon maturation rates. Maturation and personal development is not strictly linear, but rather more haphazard and piecemeal, such that children of either gender make intellectual and emotional advances at variable rates and in relative degrees.

A longitudinal British study titled the Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) was published in 2003 (Sylvia 2003). It examined the learning outcomes of children between the ages of 3-7. The study's main findings were that children who had undertaken some form or other of early childhood education were intellectually more advanced and more socially equipped for school, than children who had no pre-school educational experience (Sylva et al 2003:1). The authors of the study noted that the hazard of social exclusion was less likely to be a factor when children commenced schooling, if they had experienced prior early childhood education (Sylvia 2003:1). The authors did qualify their own findings by stating that it would require further study to determine whether these initial advantages produced tangible differences during the first year of school (Sylvia et al 2003:7). While this study did not examine gender differences per se, it did address the concept of social exclusion and social inclusiveness. Its main finding in this regard was that the calibre of the early childhood provider setting influenced the degree of intellectual and social readiness of the child for the next step of commencing schooling (Sylvia et al 2003:4-5). The quality of the learning was a direct expression of the number and quality of the planned learning activities supervised by adults (Sylvia et al 2003:5). While EPPE (3-11), an extension of this initial study was completed in 2008, the further studies known as EPPE (3-16) and EPPE (16+) are ongoing. The findings of EPPE (3-11) included reference to the influence of family background, quality of early childhood educational experience and the quality of the primary school attended by the child (Sylvia et al 2007:2). There is no reference the variable of gender difference as one of the determinants of differential in learning and social outcomes for children either before the commencement of primary school or during those years

Furthermore, modern research reminds us that there are multiple intelligences, ranging from the logical/rational spectrum, to the emotional, creative, aesthetic, kinesthetic, social, and so on. The mere recognition that intelligence is a diverse enterprise is a step forward, beyond the outmoded view that educational gender bias simply has to do with access to subject range and the range of activities for young learners (Parkay and Stanford 2003:270; see also Wade 2000:99).

Furthermore, Kutnick (2000) found in his Caribbean based study of gender difference and educational attainment, that while girls outperformed boys in core learning and skill areas, the "type of school attended, pre-school attendance, with whom the student lives and occupations of mother and father" Kutnick (2000:66) were salient factors. In other words, such knowledge heightens the degree of presumption characterising the remarks made by Children's Minister Primarolo reflected through the Guardian, and typical of the government's attitude that the spending of scarce public money on initiatives such as the EYFS must be promptly justified at every available opportunity, clutching statistical comparisons fed by their own organ, namely the Department of Children, Schools and Families. To make public remarks concerning boys relative educational attainment deficiencies at age 5, when about to commence stage 1 formal schooling, is a case of jaundiced naval-gazing, and instead the broad spectrum of educational experiences across age 5-18 should be the true canvass, where uncontrolled variables such as Kutnick (2000: 66) notes, including pre-school attendance, with whom the student lives and occupations of mother and father, are not gender contingencies necessarily at all. Had these factors been taken into account by the DCSF prior to one would suspect the pressurized data release, the gender contrasts dramatised by the Guardian, may well be significantly neutralised.

Gender is now recognised as an integral component in the development of the child during the early childhood years. According to Staples-New and Cochran (2006:908), curriculum frameworks have begun to recognise the active role children take in these years to construct and reconstruct their gender identity. Within the Australian educational context, there exists a gender equity policy for the early childhood years (2006:908), which essentially focuses upon equality of rights for all children to access opportunities for development. It proceeds to also acknowledge that within the vital area of children's play, the range of femininities and masculinities should be accommodated, as a small part of the larger process of children's enculturation process and formulation of their gender related identities.

Furthermore, the anxiety about inequity in gender performance even at this nascent stage of the formal educational journey, overlooks the factor of maturational and gender learning style differences, in effect rendering ironic, that the more fundamental gender inequity is not the rather superficial summative outcome differential at the end of EYFS, but the conformist approach to pedagogical practice, that patently suits some types of learners and not others. That males are not doomed to trail females if this artificial gender gap is not slammed shut, is amply testified to by the evidence of male educational attainment at latter stages of life. McNabb et al (2002) , draws attention through his study of gender differences in educational attainment among university students in England and Wales, to the fact that more males attain first class degrees than females. Again, the alarmists might spy yet another attainment gap that needs to be shut in the name of equity, when in fact, as with individual differences at the onset of childhood, so here, sociological factors play a significant role and often offset the impulse to attribute attainment differences simplistically to gender as the smoking gun. Klein (2007:185) supports this contention, noting "there is a danger to essentialise gender", in the educational debates.

Scott (2004) has effectively contextualised the discourse surrounding the representation of gender as a scapegoat for unequal educational attainment, even at the nascent stage now known as EYFS. In Scott's view, following an extensive longitudinal study examining class and educational attainment, the findings indicate that class remains a far more powerful determinant of relative educational attainment than gender. Scott used "six years of data from the British Household Panel Study (1994-1999) to examine how family background, maternal employment, parenting practices, youth characteristics and gender role attitudes and aspirations in early adolescence help shape later educational outcomes in terms of success at two key educational stages in England and Wales" (Scott 2004).

In this sense, the EYFS initiative to establish statutory guidelines, goes some distance to advocating on behalf of children with social class disadvantages, yet should not be stretched to account for perhaps more complex and less well understood gender differences. The media's hip-pocket nerve reactionary tendency to gain quick emotive responses from the community, rather than providing informative well-founded research based perspectives, is an irresponsible ploy which may find political responsiveness to public sentiments, yet end up wasting financial and educational resources which are misdirected. The mechanism for the transmission of advantage through social class, is seen in the families reproduction of "advantage through different forms of capital, including financial, human, cultural and social capital,…(while) the household structure and family processes help shape the young person's capabilities and create various opportunities and constraints that mould the young person's development…(and finally) young people themselves play an active role in shaping both present circumstances and future pathways" (Scott 2004).

Scott's work used GCSE attainment data, and while at a different life stage to the EYFS and therefore not offering a direct comment upon the formalisation of education for the young in Britain, the work is instructive in advocating the value of examining several vales simultaneously, which converge upon a specific issue, in this case educational attainment. Connolly found a correlation of the gender gap being retained from early years to GCSE results (2004:8).

In essence, the policy directions impacting British education are patently politicised, leaving a significant responsibility with the British political leadership to be receptive not only to financial dictates, but also wholesome educational theory and advice. Media stories such as Lipsett's (2009) should be countered by solid, well informed educational perspectives supported by credible data, which indicates that gender differentials with respect to educational attainment is a subject requiring carefully nuanced study. The further factor of the formalisation of children's educational experiences in the nascent years 0-5 remains highly problematic and should be subject to further scrutiny in the interests of children.