Many of you in here will remember Miss Garrett’s brilliant talk last year on feminism. She acknowledged the work that old style feminists had done in previous decades; but she sought to argue, rightly, that we should all be feminists on the grounds that what feminism really meant was that we subscribe to an equal and fair society. I think there should be few in here who disagree with that. I am often asked by prospective parents about the nature of a single sex school and whether or not you boys grow up knowing how to interact with members of the opposite sex. I reply that we aim to teach you all to respect other people, and such a notion cuts across race, religion and also gender. I hope sincerely that you would respect girls and women to exactly the same degree that you respect boys and men and indeed yourself.
I read something over the weekend which reminded me both of my daily meetings with prospective parents and of Miss Garrett’s talk; and the article provided its own interesting slant on the matter. The Spectator magazine was reporting about gender imbalances and it hit upon two separate and apparently contradictory themes. The following is an excerpt to provoke some thought, I hope….it starts with a re-assessment of the reporting of the pay gap between the genders:
“For years, various statistics have been used to exaggerate the gender pay gap. The point most often concealed statistic is that the pay gap has been virtually eliminated for anyone born after 1975. This is cause for celebration: the idea that a woman should be paid less than a man for the same work is repugnant and indefensible. Happily, the vast majority of British employers agree. For older women there is still ground to be made up. But any sober assessment of the pay gap needs to take in its virtual absence among the under-40s.
Such sober assessments are in short supply: it’s far easier to use crude figures to generate headlines. PricewaterhouseCoopers this week published a report claiming that the UK has a gender pay gap of 17 per cent. This figure was created by ignoring the fact that men tend to work different hours to women. When, like the Office of National Statistics, you compare the hourly rates of pay, the average gap across all age groups is 9 per cent.
Even that doesn’t tell you the whole story. Among 22- to 29-year-olds, the gap is usually negative, with women earning more than men over much of the past decade. For women in their thirties, it is a negligible 1.5 per cent less. The problem that remains is for women in their forties (13 per cent) and fifties (16 per cent). Factor in career breaks for child-raising and the problem persists. So yes, there is still work to be done.
But among the younger generation a new issue is emerging. For those not yet in the workplace, the grave equality problem comes in the form of a school attainment gap. There is no biological reason why boys and girls should not do just as well at school, fare just as well in exams and stand the same chance of thriving at university. But today, gender inequality in school is far worse than in the 1960s — except this time it’s the boys who are suffering. For three decades now, they have been less likely than girls to get decent GCSE results. They are now 27 per cent less likely to apply to university and 30 per cent more likely to drop out if admitted. Men now make up barely a third of law graduates, and two in five medicine graduates.
To her credit, one who has paid attention to the underachievement of boys in education is Mary Curnock Cook, retiring chief executive of UCAS – she of course spoke here in the Great Hall last year. She points to schools where the only male staff member is the janitor, and asks about the lack of male role models at a time when 15-year-olds are more likely to have a smartphone in their pocket than a father in their home. As she recently pointed out, if the university gender imbalance were reversed there would be no end of inquiries and initiatives to address the problem.
Harriet Harman’s memoir recalls an era when the feminist agenda was synonymous with the struggle for equality. But slowly, these two notions are coming apart. The pay of the over-40s is a cause for concern, but the educational attainment gap of under-20s is another. Anyone genuinely concerned about equality in Britain should be worried about both.”
A response to the above could well be the re-emergence of single sex education. It is worth remembering that these statistics have been gained from an overwhelmingly mixed education system. An education such as ours, where the focus of the whole school is to specialise in the attainment of boys, has to be in your favour. So too does a boy’s natural competitive instinct; together you can, and indeed do, defy these figures. Two pieces of evidence back this up. In 2016 education data analysts SchoolDash produced figures to show that 55 per cent of pupils in mixed schools achieved five good GCSEs including English and maths, while single-sex schools maintained a higher proportion with 75 per cent of pupils getting the same results. Much of this was due to girls doing better in all girls’ education; but it was also attributed in part to the same being said for boys. At A Level, the results seem even more stark. The Telegraph’s analysis of exam results for 2016 show that 41% of pupils registered at an all-girls school got AAB; 38% of boys in an all-boys school; but only 18% of pupils in mixed schools got the same results.
Still people worry that not mixing education with the opposite sex in some way disadvantages you socially. Well, you have the opportunity to prove them wrong: not only can you show that you can gain wonderful results from an all boys’ school, but also that you can mix well and treat all people, no matter what their gender, with equal respect.