More than 800 Year 12 students from 10 secondary schools in the region were surveyed. More boys than girls expected to do very well in their mathematics subjects, with male Mathematical Methods students three times more likely than their female counterparts to expect to do very well.
The study also looked at differences between students from well educated homes, and not so well educated homes. Students from well educated homes were more able to cope with the pace of learning at VCE. Twenty five per cent of students from well educated homes also expected to do very well, compared to only 14 per cent of students from less well educated homes.
Researcher Sue Helme said the study revealed more needed to be done to make mathematics teaching responsive to the needs of girls.
"Despite decades of research into gender differences and strategies for making mathematics more appealing and engaging for girls, we clearly still need to do more," she said.
Students also reported they would benefit from better teaching at earlier year levels, more thorough preparation for Year 12 and a slower pace of teaching in Year 12. Students asked for more enjoyable coursework and for more ‘hands on' mathematics, with stronger links to real life situations.
According to Ms Helme, listening to students was key to addressing inequities in the experiences and outcomes of Year 12 mathematics students in low socio-economic-status schools.
"We need to start heeding student feedback, reinvigorating the curriculum and providing enough trained teachers to ensure all students have the opportunity to engage deeply with mathematics," she said.
"Now is the right time to look at these issues, as the Australian mathematics curriculum is being developed. If we don't take action, too many students will remain marginalised from mathematics."
Ms Helme conducted this study with Professor Richard Teese. They are both based in the Centre for Research on Education Systems, in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne.