The Independent

'Feminised exams can produce only civil servants'

By Judith Judd, Education Editor
The Independent
19 January 2001

Girls have overtaken boys at school because exams have been feminised, the head of a right-wing think-tank says in an article published today.

Modular courses, coursework and continuous assessment instead of exams favour hard-working, methodical girls instead of risk-taking boys, says Dr Madsen Pirie, president of the Adam Smith Institute.

Girls overtook boys at GCSE a few years ago. Last year, for the first time, they had more top A-level grades, and they get more first-class degrees.

Some researchers have blamed boys' idleness, lack of motivation and "laddish" culture. In an article in The Spectator, Dr Pirie says the fault lies with "feminised" exams that put less emphasis on risk and competition. The result, he says, will be a nation of civil servants rather than entrepreneurs.

"The old O-level with its high-risk, swot-it-all-up-for-the-final-throw, and then attempt not more than four out of nine questions was a boys' exam," he says. GCSEs, which include coursework, and the modular approach to A-levels catered for girls' "more systematic, consistent, attention-to-detail qualities". Boys are just as academic as girls but exams "fail to bring out their strong points. They have been remade, perhaps unconsciously, in a feminine image".

He suggests that boys and girls sit different exams tailored to their particular talents.

He warns that the exam system may threaten the UK's prosperity."If we select the methodical over the risk-takers, male or female, and the systematic in preference to those with insight, will Britain still be capable of meeting the challenges the world throws its way? Will it still be as inventive and creative? Will it still produce penicillin and hovercraft? Or will we just produce civil servants?"