Charles Ward: The science behind the infant gender gap

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The Independent Online

The differences in achievement between boys and girls probably start in the womb. We know that males have a higher average birth weight, have a higher basal metabolism and a greater vital capacity than females. We also know that girls reach puberty on average two and a half years earlier than boys. Recent work by Simon Baron-Cohen suggests that there is some difference in the way males and females think. But we do still need to know a lot more about the neurological differences between boys' and girls' brains.

Perhaps most important is the differences in early development in areas of language, socialisation and motor activities. Girls develop language and communication skills faster than boys, whereas boys develop their motor skills and spatial awareness faster. There has always been a debate between the nature and nurture groups about which is the most important in shaping children and shaping these differences. Perhaps the answer lies in both camps.

Certainly the socialisation of our children still has a gender gap to it. Males are still portrayed as aggressive and females as passive. Although we can note a societal change in the stereotyping of male and female gender roles, in most families the boys have "boy toys" and the girls have "girl toys", which extends even down to the choice of colour. Have you ever tried to persuade a young boy that it is OK to ride a pink bike?

What is important is that these differences exist. When boys and girls have equal chances there is likely to be a gender difference in their performance and achievement. The girls in the DCSF study have outperformed the boys in a whole range of areas that have been measured by Foundation Stage profile results. That is not surprising when schooling is dependent on language, communication and socialisation. The boys have performed better in areas where they seem to have a developmental advantage and where their socialisation experiences best prepare them. The lesson for the DCSF and for the world of education is to understand essential differences between boys' and girls' development and the implications for their learning.

The author is general secretary of the Association of Education Psychologists.

He was writing in a personal capacity

Charles Ward is an educational psychologist