Open Eye: Letter: Catching up - at a price?

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The Independent Online
I have a particular interest in the article "looking for ways to help lads catch up" by Yvonne Cook (Open Eye, October), both because of personal experience and concern for the way in which this might be done - perhaps a return to discrimination against girls and not just complacency about girls as the article suggests.

But for the way the pass mark was calculated for the 11-plus, the gender differential in the learning process might well have become apparent earlier. This process discriminated against girls overall and to a lesser degree boys in county areas, by operating a quota system for grammar school places to the benefit of city boys.

I believe the policy aim was to reinforce the stereotypical image of rural lower classes, and girls only as wives and mothers. By this means children, many of them girls, who failed the 11 plus examination were labelled as academically inferior. This label has both economic and psychological affects on people.

During 1996 the Thatcher government touted the idea of a return to the 11-plus. This, together with the reduction of grants for social science courses made me ask whether there was another political agenda; that of releasing jobs for men. Could this be because social science courses attract more women than men, and as more women learn about their unequal position in society the less likely they are to conform to the political aim to return them to the home and release jobs for men?

Had the Conservative party been returned to power then once again another generation of women could have had their life chances limited. Discrimination against girls in the education system has come in many guises. For example it was not until examination papers contained numbers instead of names that there could be any guarantee of an equal opportunity to pass examinations.

If, too, men are still occupying most of the top jobs should we be asking why? Could there be other discriminating factors at work here, rather than making the assumption that women have less ability? In looking for ways to help the lads catch up I hope the education policies from the past are not repeated.

By all means find a way to help boys catch up, but not by discriminating against girls. When one group is favoured another is always penalised and surely this to the detriment of both individuals and the nation as a whole.

My time at the OU was so very rewarding and I have frequently thanked Harold Wilson and Jennie Lee. Without their insight how much poorer I would be, and I do not mean in economic terms, because gaining my BSc Hons. restored my faith in myself and has proved I did have the ability despite the label of academic inferiority.

Perhaps there are ways to "help the lads" as my grandsons already show. In their case both my daughters introduced their sons to books from babyhood.

They read to them daily and consequently the younger boy, aged 5, according to his teacher, has verbal skills beyond those of hie peer group. On entry to his new school the older boy, aged 10, showed a reading age of 14 years 9 months and a spelling age of 12 years 4 months.

I am not saying reading from an early age is the whole answer to the prevention of boys lagging behind girls and more answers will need to be found.

Some boys may require a different approach; one which will engage their particular interest in order to maintain their concentration level. But whatever route is taken to ` help the lads catch up' it is important to find a solution that is fair to both sexes.