The gender divide we give to our children

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The Independent Online

At first glance the results of the Government's school tests for four- and five-year-olds appear to tell us what we know already. In what is described as an "alarming" gender divide, it turns out that at this age, according to the foundation stage profile, girls are better than boys at absolutely everything. Everything that was tested anyway, which with 117 reports from their teacher on around 550,000 children, means presumably that these results are pretty comprehensive.

At first glance the results of the Government's school tests for four- and five-year-olds appear to tell us what we know already. In what is described as an "alarming" gender divide, it turns out that at this age, according to the foundation stage profile, girls are better than boys at absolutely everything. Everything that was tested anyway, which with 117 reports from their teacher on around 550,000 children, means presumably that these results are pretty comprehensive.

The report's results have the ring of truth about them. Girls, in the early stages of development, are different from boys. They want to get out of nappies more quickly; they listen more attentively to what adults are telling them and they like to draw and to play with paper and glue. They are almost designed for entering school at four or five.

Boys, on the other hand, just want to wee on the floor, play with toy guns, and carry on honing their awesome ability completely to blank out any voice of authority that might be trying to communicate with them. Frankly, it's a waste of time giving them much at all in the form of structured education until they are seven, and finally catch on to the idea that Other Humans Exist. Well, not always, for either sex, but as a sweeping generalisation anyway this is what most people broadly believe from their own experience as parents.

Except, sadly, that the observations of most of the parents of four- and five-year-olds I've ever met appear to be wrong, wrong, wrong, even more wrong than the flawed, rubbishy report which confirms that they were right all along. How confusing.

Durham University education expert, Professor Peter Tymms, says that independent tests show very little difference in the sexes' skills at this age, and that teachers rate girls more highly simply because they are "better behaved". But isn't being "better behaved" a key way of getting the most out of school anyway?

Apparently not, because a developmental glass ceiling is already in place at the very start of our children's education. Another thing this data shows is that one in four children met or exceeded all the goals that were being set for them, and therefore are not "being stretched".

Since some of the skills reported on are such developmental milestones as being able to dress, I can't help wondering how children can be "stretched" in their execution. What are schools to do? Supply clothing with elaborate fastenings as part of the national curriculum to offer "bright" four-year-olds a challenge?

Admittedly, though, some of the tests do seem a little basic. The children, for example, were tested on whether they recognised the sound of their own name. It is hard to imagine that children of four or five who do not know their own names would not have been noted already by teachers as people who might need extra attention.

What the teacher could do about it, though, when he has reports estimated to weigh in at 100,000 words for a class of 30 to compile, is anyone's guess. Certainly not sitting around rubbing his chin and having a ponder about whether girls being "better behaved" might be linked in some way - other than sheer teacher bias - to their superior attainment all through their school career.

Better to leave that to the experts.

Parallel universe of Little Portugal

It is not often that the manifest advantages of living in the middle of London's "Little Portugal" become hugely apparent. Yes, one can purchase all of the ingredients for callo verde - Portuguese cabbage soup - at any time of the day or night. Yes, one is unable to leave any local shop without having acquired a couple of custard pies. But these novelties soon wear off, and one does eventually start yearning for, say, a nice organic butcher, or a branch of Oddbins to open, instead of yet another local-economy-defying tapas bar.

So, it was rather jolly on Thursday night, having endured hours of tension, followed by - suddenly, with hindsight - utterly predictable defeat, to wander outside into streets crammed with jubilant football supporters, draped in their national flag, bellowing happy obscenities, and looking as if they were only just managing to stay this side of serious trouble.

Cars were driving up and down the South Lambeth Road, trailing their flags and tooting their horns. Crowds were gathered outside the Estrella - king of the local Portuguese bars - incoherent with delight. All right, so it was a different team that was being saluted, but at least there was a happy message in the streets: that one man's loss is another man's gain.

The non-tooting motorists, as they stumbled into this orgy of celebration, weren't taking it this way, though. They simply looked bemused. Clearly a lot of people drive through Little Portugal without ever stopping off for callo verde fixings or custard pies at all. They, therefore, assumed that they'd fallen through a black hole, into some parallel universe where England had won the match, their flag was red and green and the supporters all looked like Nancy Dell'Olio with her legs hacked off at the knees. Especially the men.

Adding a final touch of authentic In-ger-land ambience to this touching scene was the presence of about 30 policemen and women on foot and at least six vans full of riot police waiting for it all to go off. This may seem excessive, but since the Portuguese had barricaded the end of the road, stopped all the traffic and let off fireworks until they were arrested, after they had beaten some other Euro 2004 team a few nights previously, it probably wasn't.

Which again was a comfort. Once again, it will be the privilege of another country's football fans to make total international idiots of themselves for all the world to see. At least we're out of all that now.

How to get stuffed on a healthy diet

Aha. My handy new chart, straight from the offices of the Contrary Nutrition Board, tells me that a person of my age and gender should be eating 280g of oily fish a week.

Excellent. If I place this knowledge alongside that which tells me I must eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, make sure a third of my food intake is bread, cereals or other starchy carbohydrates, and gather my vital proteins from a variety of sources, including nuts, pulses, eggs in moderation, red meat in moderation, white meat, fish, cheese, and oils containing "good fats" - which should be eaten in 1,000mg chunks each day for calcium as well, drink a glass of red wine every evening, and start the day with natural yoghurt for its pro-biotic qualities, I'll be the size of the healthiest house in Britain in no time.

Wouldn't it be something if it turned out that obesity was caused by too much information about food?

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