Gender School Culture: Why Boys Outperform Girls

Key Stage 2 examinations are done by pupils who are about to complete their primary education. These exams are used to evaluate the progress of the students, to categorize the primary schools according to their performance, and to provide secondary schools with a picture of pupils’ academic capabilities as they begin their year seven (National Audit Office, p.8). Several studies carried out by different scholars and academic institutions have shown that girls outperform boys in the KS2 exams in reading and English but the performance in science is almost the same between boys and girls. The overall performance of girls is also much higher than boys. However, girls perform worse than boys in Math (National Audit Office). This study aims to understand the reasons behind the poor performance of girls in KS2 Maths examinations.

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Several factors have inspired this research. First, Mathematics is one of the most important subjects and it is widely used not only in career fields but also on a day-to-day basis (National Audit Office, p.8). It is therefore important that both boys and girls learn the basic and important skills involved in Mathematics. Second, the majority of the careers require some basic knowledge of Math. Indeed one of the conditions that most colleges and universities check before enrolling students in their academic programs is the students’ performance in Math. Many students who did not perform well in Math are usually forced to upgrade their Math before they can enroll in a college course. Third, Math skills become more complex as students progress from primary to secondary levels. The inability of children to understand Math at the primary level poses greater problems for them when they proceed to the secondary level of education (). Fourth, science and technology courses have become increasingly important in this era of technology. Students who enroll for these courses at the tertiary education level find themselves in an advantaged position as far as job opportunities are concerned. These courses however require Math without which students may not be in a good position to grasp concepts and perform well in the courses. The importance of Math in today’s society is the major motivating factor for conducting this study. The poor performance of girls in Math means that girls may miss out on golden opportunities in the future especially in the area of career choice. Understanding the reasons behind girls’ poor performance in KS2 Maths may enable primary schools and other educational institutions to institute effective strategies that would improve girls’ performance in Math.

The study conducted will use a qualitative phenomenological design which entails the use of a sample that is well experienced with the problem under investigation (Leedy and Ormrod, p.27). The main objective of the study will be to gain a deeper understanding of the reasons behind girls’ poor performance in Maths in Key Stage 2 examinations. The study will be guided by several research questions which include:

  • What attitudes do girls in primary schools have towards Math?
  • What are the reasons behind girls’ attitudes towards Math?
  • What importance do girls attach to Math as far as their daily life is concerned?
  • What importance do girls attach to Math as far as their career prospects are concerned?
  • What role do Math teachers have in developing girls’ attitudes and perceptions towards Math?
  • What role does the family play in developing girls’ attitudes and perceptions towards Math?

The collection of data for this study will be done using in-depth interviews. “An in-depth interview is a technique that allows person-to-person discussion and can lead to increased insight into people’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior on important issues,” (Belk, 2006, p.34). In this study, the in-depth interview will be conducted with the use of an unstructured interview script administered by the researcher. The interview script will contain both closed-ended and open-ended questions to allow the researcher to obtain adequate information from the informants. The interview will not be conducted in any organized manner. Instead, the researcher will choose to ask questions in an order that he seems suitable to the informants depending on the direction the interview will take and on the responses given by the informants. The execution of the in-depth interview will follow six basic steps.

The first step will involve planning how the interviews will be conducted. In this study, the in-depth interviews will be conducted on an individual basis at the current residences of the participants. This will enable the researcher to obtain other important socio-economic details about the participants. The second step will involve deciding who the informants will be. In this study, the informants will be girls who sat for their Key Stage 2 examinations in the past five years. The third step will be the preparation of the interview script. The researcher should decide on the types of questions that will be asked during the interview making sure that the questions help to achieve the major objectives of the study. An important issue to be considered is the framing of the questions. Open-ended questions are most suitable for an in-depth interview because they will prompt the informants to explain their points in great detail. The fourth and fifth steps will involve selecting and training the interviewers respectively. These steps will only be used if a need to have external interviewers arises (other than the researcher). The last step involves conducting the actual interviews with the informants at the selected setting and recording the collected data (Belk, p.39).

The participants of this study will comprise girls who have gone through their primary education and who sat for their Key Stage 2 examinations in the past five years. Since it is a qualitative study, a small sample (of fifty) will be used to enable the researcher to conduct in-depth interviews. Participants will be selected from rural and urban schools, from different economic backgrounds (low-income, middle-income, and high-income households), and different ethnic communities (Whites, Blacks, Asians, and Hispanics). Such information can be obtained from students’ records held by their former primary schools. The use of participants will enable the researcher to understand how different socio-economic factors affect girls’ performance in Math.

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The study will be conducted at each of the participants’ homes. This will make the participants comfortable because the interview will take place in a familiar environment. In addition, the preferred setting will enable the researcher to gain knowledge of the socio-economic status of the participants. For instance, the type of home of the participants can tell a lot about their financial situation, that is whether they are low-income, middle-income, or high-income households.

In preparation for this course, I have read several scholarly journals and books that address the gender gap in academic performance. I have also read several reports prepared by different scholars and academic institutions, for instance, the report prepared by the National Audit Office. This literature has equipped me with knowledge concerning the performance of both boys and girls in different subjects in primary schools. I have learned that generally, girls perform better than boys in the overall examinations but their performance in Math is wanting.

Apart from reading the above-mentioned pieces of literature, I have also learned, through extensive reading, the processes involved in conducting academic research. I have learned the different types of research – that, qualitative and quantitative, and when it is most applicable to use them. I have also learned the different data collection methods, their application to different research studies as well as the strategies used to increase the response rates among the participants. The rigor, validity, and reliability of research studies are three important elements that need to be ensured in any research. I have learned how these three aspects can be guaranteed. Most importantly, I have learned the ethical standards such as confidentiality and informed consent that need to be upheld while carrying out academic research studies. As a result, the study conducted will be credible and will conform to ethical standards.


  1. Belk, Russell. Handbook of Qualitative Research Methods in Marketing. London: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2006.
  2. Leedy, Paul, & Jeanne Ormrod. Practical Research: Planning and Design (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River: Pearson, 2005.
  3. National Audit Office. Mathematics Performance in Primary Schools: Getting the Best Results. London: The Stationery Office, 2008.
  4. National Audit Office. Young People’s Attitudes To Mathematics: A Research Study Among 11-13 Year Olds. London: The Stationery Office, 2008.
  5. Stalker, Amanda. Three Easy Steps to Close the Key Stage 2 Mathematics Gender Gap. 2007.
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