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Education Research Topic

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  • OK, here is the essay.  I have not posted the appendices and some of the graphs didn't come out on the paste, but you get the idea.  Anyway, I have been having kittens over this, so hope its not too junk.



    Executive Summary/Abstract

    This report has been carried out to explore the success of portfolio/exam style assessment and how gender would play a part in the outcomes.  If there is a difference between male and female success rates, depending upon assessment style, then transgender students should be affected by the selection of portfolio or examination, as much as a natal female.   A thorough exploration of portfolio/exam results and how this would affect a transgender student forms a large part of this study.


    National statistics reveal that there is a difference between male and female pass rates.  A questionnaire sent out to a male only prison was conducted which showed that there was only a slight preference for portfolio assessment and that overall there did not appear to be a preference.  An online survey posted on a transgender web page revealed a slight preference for portfolio work.


    Transgender people are subject to a variety of medical and psychological issues, including genetic, physical and hormonal anomalies.  They are also targeted by bullies and subject to a wide range of abuse.  Consequently transgender people have a high rate of self-harm and attempted suicide compared to the general population.


    Pass rates taken from HMP ******s’ education department for the past two years indicate that, although both male and transgender female students enjoy similar success rates with portfolios, a noticeable difference was observed between the examination results for male and transgender students.


    There are two main areas for concern that therefore need to be addressed:  Bullying and the poor performance in examinations.  It is recommended that the Stonewall Societies recommendations to tackle bullying should be employed and that a campaign should be undertaken to enhance the education staffs knowledge of transgender bullying.  Portfolios are also to be used where possible, but where an examination is required workbooks which replicate the evidence gathering styles used in portfolios should help to support learners who may prefer to have used a portfolio assessment method.



    The main purpose of the research is to explore student outcomes from different styles of assessment – examination vs portfolio.  Preparation for the two methods is quite different, yet the majority of vocational and post compulsorily qualifications seem to favour a portfolio style.  There are some exceptions, like accountancy for example, or degree level courses.  A theory that led to the GCSE format stated that boys are better at examinations, while girls are better at portfolio work.  The GCSE was implemented to address this perceived weakness.  It will also raises questions with regard to lesson delivery for male, female and transgender students and their general preferred learning and assessment style.  The difference between male and female assessment and learning has been know and recognised for some time. (Goebel, 2010), but what does this actually mean in the classroom?  Would notebooks and hand-outs be the best approach, as has been traditionally used in schools, or is a workbook or portfolio approach better for all concerned?  I am particularly interested in how this would affect transgender students and a considerable amount of my research will be dedicated to these learners, since more and more people are identifying themselves as transgender.  It follows that, if there is a difference between male/female vs portfolio/examinations, then this would have an impact on a transgender student’s success.



    The term Transgender refers to a person who is transitioning between birth and desired gender, although the term is still used for those who have transitioned into the new sex.  For this reason, some of the electronic results, where M or F have been indicated may not reflect the birth sex of the person. 


    Cisgender indicates a person who is happy with their birth sex and there is no difference between brain and body. 


    A natal female is a term used to describe a woman or girl who was born female. 



    Literature Review

    It is necessary to explore aspects related to transgenderism and the delivery model best suited to this client group.  Before looking at any other data related to this condition, an explanation may be necessary to describe why a transgender learner might behave emotionally and, more critically, approach study and examination in a similar manner to a natal female.


    Three essays prove particularly insightful.    The first is the “Definition and Synopsis of the Etiology of Gender Variance” (Gender Identity Research and Education Society, 2009).  This gives a broad outline of the medical explanations for gender variance and sites many of the accepted explanations and theories with regard to the condition.  An in depth explanation of genetic issues faced by transgender and intersex people is outlined in the essay “Heronomativity” (Shye, 2017).  This shows that, as well as being a condition that affects the brain, there may be quite pronounced physical symptoms as well.  Ms Shye also wrote an essay detailing her own background.  This further underscores the physical nature of transgenderism, as she details her own diagnosed condition – “Reifenstein’s Syndrome” (Shye, 2017).  This would seem to indicate that there is some weight to the existence of male/female differences in transgender people and that logically a transgender female should approach education as a natal female would.


    An alternative explanation to those outlined by Ms Shye have been discussed in the e-mail from Claire Birkenshaw (See Appendix E), a post-operative transgender and female head mistress of a secondary school, who transitioned while in office.   She does not believe that male and female brains work differently and has provided two sources to support her claim (See Appendix E).  The first is a newspaper article in the Guardian (Sample, 20125) , while the other is a TED talk by Daphna Joel (Joel, 2012) detailing how the brain can change characteristics to become more male or female during stress.  These offer interesting insights, but the existing medical research indicates that Ms Shyes’ (who also challenges Ms Birkenshaws view on the Gender Societies forum in a post “Male/Female Brain”) model is correct and that there are two distinct brain types and that hormones, not only play a large part in the brains development, but also may have an impact upon thought processes after HRT treatment has begun.  Interpreting the research done by Ms Joel, despite her claim that the brain is gender neutral, it is apparent that the starting point, without stress, is either male or female.  In addition to this, a certain amount of re-wiring has been observed by doctors treating teenage transgender patients with hormones, so that the brain functions in a more male or female manner, depending upon the hormone employed.  Given the weight of research to support the gender specific brain, it seems to indicate that a male to female transgender students’ study and examination characteristics would be the same as a natal female students.


    Transgender students are subject to bullying (Stonewall, 2017) (Stonewall, 2014) (Society, T.B., 2017).  It therefore follows that this aspect of their lives should be examined in a little more detail in order to understand the psychological impact this would have on a learner and, logically, if this may contaminate the data in some way, due to the additional stress placed on the learner.  Exams are stressful and it may be that this addition stress may contribute to a higher failure rate.


    There has been little research carried out on bullying of post compulsorily students, however “Stonewall” has compiled a variety of data concerning secondary school phobic bullying, which may be relevant to the prison situation.  Due to the closed environment, prison populations can be very emotional and situations that an adult would normally be able to walk away from, may have to be faced and endured on a daily basis by a prisoner.  As such, bullying and stress may be more potent in such a claustrophobic setting.  As such, the rate of bullying in schools may be closer to those in prison than, for example, a regional college.  The conversation between A. Smith and Dr Lawrence M. Tunis, detailed in (Appendix D), supports the view that bullying and non-acceptance play a major role.  In addition to this, it is stated that hormones and knowledge from an early age that they are transgender, or at least different, may have had an impact upon their school life/early years development.  Even in later life, once transition has started, the major life changes will have a bearing upon their emotional state and therefore their learning.


    One of Stonewalls reports – “The Teachers Report” (The Stonewall Society, 2014) details some quite disturbing statistics.  Page 18 and 19 show that teachers have noticed that 86% of pupils in their school are bullied, or harassed in relation to the victim being, or is suspected of being LGBT.  13% report that this is a regular occurrence.  35% suffer direct verbal abuse, while 32% are the victims of gossip.  In addition to this, 6% suffer physical abuse, 4% damage to property or theft, while a worrying 1% are threatened with weapons.  A high proportion of incidents are boys who are suspected of being LGBT, or even just behave in a girlish manner.  Although lower in number, girls who play sports or do particularly well at school are also accused of being lesbian.  Unfortunately, as the report indicates on page 24/25, there is little training or support for teachers to enable them to tackle such behavior.  In fact as many as 80% of secondary school teaching staff have received no training in this field.  This figure is reflected in post compulsorily education, with an even higher number of untrained staff.


    “The School Report” (The Stonewall Society, 2017) is a similar publication by Stonewall.  However, instead of canvasing teachers with regard to incidents, this report questions students.  The number of incidents experienced by pupils appears to be higher than those observed by teachers.  Verbal abuse has risen to 42%, while gossip is shown as 37% (P14).  Worryingly death threats show as 4%, while actual sexual assault is reported at 3%, which is 2% higher than noticed in the teachers report.  A worrying 28% of bullying actually occurs in the classroom.  However, 85% of LGBT students who have learned about LGBT issues report that they feel safe in school (P24).


    This, of course has a direct impact on the wellbeing and mental health of students.  It is reported that 84% of transgender pupils have self-harmed (P30).  More worryingly 92% of transgender pupils have considered taking their own lives.  According to the same report (P31) 45% of transgender pupils have actually attempted suicide.  This is on par with other studies that I have come across.  In America it has been reported that 49% of all transgender people have attempted suicide.


    Given the above information it is apparent that bullying and gender related mental health issues needs to be addressed in order to level the academic playing field as much as possible.



    As well as using journals and books, data was collected from a male prison environment, looking at examination and portfolio success rates, as well as canvasing inmates with regard to their own experiences.  The prison in question has a high population of transgender clients.  A great deal of research has been done with regard to transgenderism and the fact that their brains may work the same as natal females.   Transgender females should therefore, perform better with a portfolio style of assessment; these students should represent a data spike in favour of a female portfolio model of delivery.  In order to compare this data it was necessary to gain national examination data by subject, looking for evidence of this male female divide.  Although standard motivational theories may apply, consideration was made for the emotional state of transgender learners, especially receiving HRT therapy.  Economic considerations may also have skewed the data (The Poverty Site, 2010.) such as parents income, access to higher education, geographic location.


    A simple male/female data analysis may not be enough to identify all of the issues faced by transgender students and their performance during assessment.  So further study was undertaken to account for the effects of bullying, HRT and general anxieties.   It was also necessary to make contacts outside of the prison, specifically dealing with gender, in order to determine if any additional considerations should be made.  The Stonewall Society also held a conference regarding LGBT in Education, which was attended in order to gain more information regarding this student group and to make further contacts within the sector.


    Finally a comparison was made between six lessons covering the same subject.  One half utilized hand outs and notebooks in order to prepare a student for an examination, while the other used a portfolio style of evidence building in order to prepare for the same examination.  These lessons also incorporated the recommendations and practices that are currently considered beneficial for a transgender student. 


    The results of this research, it was felt, would then indicate if males truly favour examination style of assessment and if changes need to be made to lesson delivery in order to accommodate female or transgender students to ensure the best outcome overall.


    The first hurdle faced is that the main student population for the study are prisoners.  By definition anything that happens in prison is legally against the persons will, so establishing consent may prove problematic, although a consent form has been devised which will be used for all data collection (See Appendix E).  In addition to this, as well as dealing with confidential company data showing exam pass rates, I have also focused particular interest on transgender students, as well as transgender people on specific forums and in person.  I therefore dealt with sensitive personal information which will need to be handled in a sensitive manner.



    During this period six customer service courses were run.  These are four weeks in duration and enjoy three hours of contact time per day.  This means that the total time in class, minus one day for administration, is forty eight.


    Three of these courses were run using the notebook method and three were run via workbook.  The results found that of the 23 people who sat courses via the workbook method, one hundred percent passed.  Of the 21 people who sat and exam while relying on hand outs and notebooks, three people failed.  This represents an 85.7% pass rate.  Although this rate could be explained in a variety of ways, including the academic capabilities of the learners, it is suggestive of the need for further study.


    Overall it would appear that girls seem to perform better at boys in both GCSE and A level results.  There are some notable acceptations, where boys are able to hold their own or achieve better results within the sciences.  However, it should be noted that there still appears to be a gender biased with regard to certain subjects.  This is not a one off and similar trends can be found in a variety of sources, (AQA, 2017) – (Joint Council for Qualifications, 2017) – (Jamieson, F. W. a. I., 2000) This belief is also evident in popular culture and newspapers (UK - The Huffington Post, 2013) (Mail, 2010) (Mendick, H., 2013).  This underachievement of boys is not simply a UK or Western problem, as shown in an African report on the subject (Pardiwalla2, G. G. a. M., November 2010) and indicated in other sources (Earlham Sociology Pages, 2016. Gender and Education. [Online]).


    Given that males are supposed to be better at examinations than females, it would logically follow that they prefer this style of assessment.  In order to determine this a questionnaire was designed (See Appendix A) and distributed throughout the prison, with ninety five responses, of these, three of the people who completed the document identified themselves as transgender.


    The results of the questionnaire can be found in Appendix B.  The questionnaire was designed in such a way to allow quantitative data to be displayed in bar chart format for each question, showing simple frequency and percentages for the grouped data.  However, in addition to this a points scoring system has been used, whereby low points were awarded to answers that favoured examinations and higher points were awarded to a preference for portfolio assessment.  This, being a male prison, it would not be unreasonable to assume that there would be a strong bias towards examinations and a low score would be reasonable, perhaps with a data spike from the transgender prisoners.  The lower score, favouring examination and higher scores are given in Table 1 shown below:

    Table 1


    Minimum Score


    Maximum Score




    Actual Score




    Strangely, rather than a low score, the results show a slight (7.3%) preference for portfolio work, with a negligible difference from the midpoint of only 416.  This may be surprising, but given many of the prisoners did not achieve great results from school, it may be that their failure to succeed in an examinations format favoured by school would not achieve the results of a portfolio model, given the students learning style.  So it may be that the learner had a pre-disposition towards portfolios in the first place.  The graph below shows this in a little more detail:




    Continuous assessment would appear to be preferable to an examination.  This may be because it appears less pressurised working over a longer timeframe than trying to achieve your best result during a single occasion.  The ability to alter your work as more information becomes available is also attractive, as shown below:

    Graph 2


    So the results of the questionnaire would seem to suggest that people are either indifferent to, or prefer a portfolio style and yet the idea that females perform better with a portfolio model, while males seem to achieve better results in examinations.  This is such a widely held belief that AQA, the examining board, were considering the introduction of gender specific testing, so that subjects such as maths and English would be assessed differently depending upon gender (Mail, 2010) (Various, 2010. Mumsnet. [Online]).  Although it may offer greater chances for learners to pass, one possible danger is the devaluation of the assessment for one gender.  If, for example, boys taking a GCSE in maths were offered the option of portfolio or examination, the danger is that “Girls” portfolio GCSEs would be devalued in favour of “Boys” examination based GCSEs.  In order to avoid this it may be desirable to create qualifications that, while not as effective as gender specific testing, would allow a viable method of assessment for both genders.


    Social aspects of classroom appear to be marginally important, as indicated below:


    Graph 3


    The online results, seem to suggest a preference for portfolio style work (See Appendix F), where at least 50% seem to favour this style, while the remainder appear indifferent.


    Table  2 shows the pass results for the education department at HMP ****, a Cat C prison for 2015 to 2017.  This prison will house between ten and fifteen of the eighty transgender prisoners held within in the UK system at any one time.    At the time of writing the prison held eleven transgender prisoners, although the records of fifteen prisoners were accessed for this time.  The General population figures are for those attending education over this period.  It is interesting to note that, while the success rates seem similar there appears to be a difference in retention.  However, even with the lower retention rate, those transgender learners who remain on the course were able to gain a significantly higher achievement rate than general male population.  This would seem to indicate that, although more likely to drop out, if retained on course a better rate of achievement may be expected.  Also, there would appear to be a more positive outcome for transgender students when being assessed by portfolio.


    The portfolio and exam rates are interesting, in that they show that portfolio success is over 90%, while the exam pass rates are just over 8%.  However, while the portfolio pass rate for transgender learners is still close to those of the general population, only 3% difference, the exam pass rate is over 11% lower.  This may indicate that females do not do as well as males in examinations.  But this could also be due to social and psychological stress associated with transition.  In either case it would indicate that portfolio style assessment offers a greater chance of a successful outcome.

    Table 2

    Exam Results for HMP Littlehey – August 2015 – July 2017

    General Population













    Exam Pass Rate


    Portfolio Pass Rate




    Transgender Students













    Exam Pass Rate


    Portfolio Pass Rate






    The pass rates published by the various examining boards would seem to indicate that females are more successful than males in GCSE’s (Statistica, 2015), but that a portfolio style of assessment is preferable.  Resources that encourage a portfolio style of delivery, perhaps using workbooks, may prove beneficial for male students as well, since it would dictate the pace and style of learning in a way that replicates a female study style.  One theory that seems to carry weight is that boys tend to be better at Maths and Science than Girls.  However, the data would seem to indicate there is a nominal difference of only 1.5% variance.  So although there might be a difference, it does not appear to be enough to warrant significant action.  Another consideration is that LGBT students suffer from bullying and psychological issues (Mermaids UK, 2017) (Stonewall, 2017), feeling isolated and victimised by their peers.  However, success rates amongst transgender learners indicate that, while good, some change in delivery style, including addressing phobic behaviour may produce even better outcomes in the future. 



    The following actions are therefore recommended:


    1. Where possible, portfolios should be chosen when faced with mixed groups.
    2. For examination style qualifications, a workbook should be utilised, allowing the learners to replicate the effort achieved though home study (For prisons where, due to movement, classroom time with the learner may be up to three hours). Also, use of workbooks allow the learners to revise their notes using a user friendly format.
    3. Group tasks and projects should be employed in order to promote inclusion for minorities.
    4. LGBT friendly resources should be used to promote inclusion and to help ensure that all students become aware of LGBT issues.
    5. All staff should receive training on LGBT issues, with particular attention to bullying (Stonewall, 2017. Initial teacher training).
    6. Managers should be seen to champion LGBT issues and adopt a zero tolerance approach to phobic behaviour.
    7. A pro-active approach should be taken to make people aware of LGBT issues that includes posters and special events to celebrate diversity (Not, as some have called it, a “Gay Day”). This should be a continuous and ongoing part of the daily college life.
    8. The establishment of LGBT social groups designed to promote awareness amongst the general population, as well as offering help and advice to new members. Cisgender students should be encouraged to attend in order to promote an inclusive and friendly image within the establishment.


    This post was edited by Alice S at September 27, 2017 10:01 PM BST
      September 27, 2017 9:44 PM BST
  • Excellent,  very worthwhile thing you have done. glad I was of some help. xxXxx


    Cristine Jennifer Shye.  B/L.  B/Acc
      September 27, 2017 9:58 PM BST
  • Hey, your not rid of me yet.  I love it here.  I just wish more people would post.


    Yes you were of great help.  



      September 27, 2017 10:03 PM BST
  • Actually, I have learned from this thread, whilst for years I have believed that transexual brains  differed from natal birth brains, all the research and studies I have done,  from your research and theory, I now believe that the educational learning process is also bi directional, something that never occured to me.

    Obviously and naturally we assume the cross gender role and perform to the social norms of our  revised gender but I never thought  that male and females have different learning capabilities in education or were that diverse,,,,thank you.

    Cristine Jennifer Shye.  B/L.  B/Acc
      September 27, 2017 11:42 PM BST
  • Your welcome.



      September 28, 2017 8:43 PM BST