Research round-up: March 2020

Written by: Emma Lee-Potter | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

SecEd's research round-up for March includes news of falling MFL take-up among boys, continuing problems with the STEM gender gap, and a mental health warning for pupils spending too much time sitting down

Language fall

The number of boys taking a foreign language at GCSE has dropped to fewer than four in 10.

In 2018, 38 per cent of boys studied a language at GCSE, compared to 50 per cent of girls. Girls were also more than twice as likely as boys to get a good grade.

The research, published by the British Council, revealed that languages are “the only EBacc subject pillar to have a significant gender divide”.

The report, written by Bobbie Mills from the Education Policy Institute and Teresa Tinsley, said that “being male, disadvantaged, or having SEN makes a pupil less likely, on average, to achieve a Grade 4 or above in a modern foreign language GCSE”.

The study made a series of recommendations to create a “pro-language ethos” in schools, including providing opportunities for pupils who do not take a language at GCSE to continue learning a language, balancing groups to avoid a greater number of boys in lower-ability groups, and organising extra-curricular language opportunities and links with schools abroad.

“Progress on the uptake of languages in schools has lagged,” said Sir Ciaran Devane, chief executive of the British Council. “Boys are far less likely than girls to be taking languages – especially French and Spanish – and among those that do, girls out-perform boys in terms of the proportion achieving the top grades.”

For details, see:

STEM sexism

Only two female scientists feature in the current GCSE science specifications, compared to 40 male scientists.

A new study by education charity Teach First revealed that in an analysis of three double science GCSE specifications only Rosalind Franklin and Mary Leakey were mentioned. Rosalind Franklin’s work paved the way for the discovery of the structure of DNA while Mary Leakey was a world-renowned paleoanthropologist.

Teach First has now launched a new “Steminism” campaign to address gender gaps in STEM careers. It also seeks to explore how to encourage more girls to continue with STEM subjects beyond GCSE.

For details, see:

Depression risk

Teenagers who sit still for large periods of the day face an increased risk of depression by the age of 18, according to a study.

Research published in The Lancet Psychiatry revealed that doing an extra 60 minutes of “light activity” every day from the age of 12, such as walking or doing chores, resulted in a 10 per cent reduction in depressive symptoms at 18.

“We found that it is not just more intense forms of activity that are good for our mental health, but any degree of physical activity that can reduce the time we spend sitting down is likely to be beneficial,” explained Aaron Kandola, the study’s lead author and a PhD student at University College London.

Senior author Dr Joseph Hayes added that schools could integrate light activity into pupils’ days – such as “standing or active lessons”.
Depressive symptoms and objectively measured physical activity and sedentary behaviour throughout adolescence: a prospective cohort study.

For details, see:


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Sign up SecEd Bulletin