The UK’s largest school exam board is developing gender-specific alternatives to the GCSE, tailor-made for girls and boys, The TES has learned.
The Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA) says it has already had positive feedback from schools about its plans for qualifications designed to play to perceived male and female strengths.
AQA’s new key stage 4 qualifications in English, maths and science could be available for teaching as soon as September 2011 with coursework options for girls and more traditional exams aimed at boys.
But one teaching union has warned that it is “extremely dangerous” for the board - which has the largest GCSE and A-level market share - to fall into “old sexist stereotypes”.
The news is the first indication of the huge implications of the Government’s deregulation of the school exams market.
Bill Alexander, AQA’s director of curriculum and assessment, said: “We could offer a route for boys that is very different to a route for girls.
“Girls tend to perform better with coursework while boys do better with end-of-year exams.
“So we are pursuing that in science to see if we could have an option in science where we might have a straightforward examination for boys but a possibility of having a coursework option for girls.”
Pundits have predicted that the removal of coursework from nearly all new- style GCSEs this year will end the 20-year trend of girls outperforming boys.
AQA’s idea is also a response to the IGCSEs offered by the other two big exam boards. This month the Government said state schools would be able to start teaching for O level-style IGCSEs in all subjects from September.
Mr Alexander said: “We are looking to do something different where there is a need in the market.
“The current GCSE criteria don’t allow coursework, but if we have now got flexibility and freedom to develop alternative products then that is what we will want to use our expertise to produce.”
His experience as a deputy head and then head in two all-girls secondaries in Berkshire had shown that “girls performed much better in coursework than boys did”, he said.
Mr Alexander said AQA would be “foolish not to” talk to schools and teachers about its proposed new exams in terms of gender differences.
He said the board had begun consulting schools three to fours months ago and they had told AQA to: “Take it forward, pursue it and let’s see the kind of things you would be offering.”
New style GCSEs currently being introduced have seen coursework largely replaced by controlled assessment, which sees pupils complete extended pieces of work under exam conditions.
Coursework was dropped from GCSE maths last year, immediately prompting boys to surge ahead of girls in the subject for the first time in more than a decade.
Mr Alexander said there was no question of AQA attempting to restrict schools over the qualifications they could enter boys and girls for.
“The important thing here is choice and the important issue is to leave those decisions to professionals,” he said.
John Bangs, NUT head of education said: “It is extremely dangerous to get into gender stereotyping. There are lots of boys who like the investigative element of coursework as well.
“The exams system is fragmenting with class stereotyping for vocational qualifications and now this. The mind boggles as to where it will go next.”
As a girl who doesn't significantly better on exams than coursework, um... no. Not to mention all the complications that would arise from the boy's exams being seen as 'default' and the girl's coursework as an easier alternative, regardless of whether or not boys perform worse on coursework.