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Boys’ underachievement - 3 decades of lagging behind

(25 Posts)
noblegiraffe Sat 08-Feb-20 10:35:49

School league tables show that boys have been outperformed by girls at school for at least 30 years now.

64% of girls pass English GCSE, while only 56% of boys do - which surely has a knock-on effect to their other subjects.

www.bbc.com/news/education-51313438

What to do? There has been so much talk and action and policies about the underachievement of disadvantaged pupils, the pupil premium and so on. How can we tackle this one?

As a maths teacher it’s a little off my radar as boys do slightly better than girls at maths and all the focus is on improving girls’ engagement.

When Gove scrapped coursework there was the expectation that the gap would close as girls do better at coursework and boys exams, but this doesn’t seem to have happened.

OP’s posts: |
itsgettingweird Sat 08-Feb-20 10:38:20

I don't know the answer but like you I'm surprised over 30 years nothing has changed.

I have noticed though a very public push for girls to do stem subjects and increasing their confidence in this. It's not very public how they are Improving English for boys and doesn't seem to be the same sorts of opportunities. For example lots of unis do stem days for girls.

sanam2019 Sat 08-Feb-20 10:51:40

I'd say girls work harder because they know they have to. As long as "boys" continue to earn more than "girls" despite working less hard at school, I would not call them disadvantaged but privileged. Wouldn't it be great to get a bigger reward despite lower achievement? I call that a privilege. Maybe once we lived in a meritocratic society, boys would decide to work harder at school.

ittooshallpass Sat 08-Feb-20 10:54:27

It doesn't seem to be holding any of them back though does it? Males generally earn more and hold higher positions, so I really can't see why there is any need to do anything 🤷‍♀️

ineedaholidaynow Sat 08-Feb-20 11:05:53

The worst achievers are white working class boys, don’t think they tend to be the higher earners.

This disparity is already evident at Primary School where girls do better than boys in reading and writing. I am a governor for a group of schools and one of the issues is that when schools bring in initiatives to try and improve standards for the boys, their writing can improve but so does the girls’ so the gap remains.

Parents’ attitudes can also have a huge impact. I have a DS who loved reading but was a reluctant writer, mainly because he was a perfectionist and always wanted to spell everything correctly. We worked with school with various games etc to help encourage his confidence with writing. But so many of his friends’ parents would say ‘oh my boy doesn’t like writing/reading he much prefers to be outside’ and that was it. They didn’t try and help them, so they start off quite early with a disadvantage.

Hercwasonaroll Sat 08-Feb-20 11:11:07

I have no idea what to do about it. There seems to be so many different reasons as to why boys seemingly underachieve IN English.

Lack of aspiration from home?
Less likely to read with parents at a young age?
Less fiction aimed at them? (look at supermarket bookshelves full of chic lit)
Reading isn't viewed as a male activity?
Do teachers have a subconscious bias towards not pushing boys?

The push for girls in STEM has been massive (not sure how successful it is). Something similar is needed for boys and English. It would impact on their other subjects too.

Contraversial but is there a slight difference in boys and girls brains? Is the gap the same in other Countries native languages?

noblegiraffe Sat 08-Feb-20 11:14:40

It doesn't seem to be holding any of them back though does it? Males generally earn more and hold higher positions

But is it the boys who failed their GCSEs who end up in those positions? If we look at the literacy rates of the overwhelmingly male prison population there is at least a correlation between doing badly at school and as an adult. I’m not saying that it’s causation as clearly there will be an underlying reason for both in many cases, but a lack of qualifications does limit options, especially these days.

OP’s posts: |
turkeyboots Sat 08-Feb-20 12:07:10

I'm not a teacher and know little about education theory but my DS really struggled with English and writing in school in England. And the all teachers had loads of excuses, boys matured later etc etc so nothing was ever done to help him.
We moved to Ireland after Year 3 and the only school with space was an all boys primary. And suddenly his English and writing vastly improved. It might be teaching styles or loads of other stuff, but DS says it was because he learnt that English wasn't just a girls subject and he wasn't being compared to the girls who were far advanced of him.
So clearly the idea English is for girls sets in v v early.

GrammarTeacher Sat 08-Feb-20 12:19:34

There's an excellent book on this called Boys Don't Try. There is definitely a 'soft bigotry of low expectations' with boys and English. There's an attitude problem that maths doesn't seem to have.
But mass generalisations are not the way out of it which a lot of people seem to think it is. Different situations need different solutions.

ProggyMat Sat 08-Feb-20 12:30:41

@noblegiraffe What is the split at Maths GCSE passes?
Also, does anyone have the split at KS2-for both subjects-which be under the old level Sats, where a ‘pass’ or ‘acceptable level’ was L4?

Chocolatedeficitdisorder Sat 08-Feb-20 12:33:55

I work in a pupil support base with teenage boys. They speak proudly of how they have never read a whole book.

ColumbaPalumbus Sat 08-Feb-20 12:38:38

This is why we chose and all boys school. Be the reasons social or biological boys and girls perform very differently. Not one single group performs as poorly as white working class boys.

ineedaholidaynow Sat 08-Feb-20 12:48:04

Both DH and I read with DS at his bedtime, we ensured that DH was a good role model for reading.

Piggywaspushed Sat 08-Feb-20 13:06:09

It's not just English , though : it is almost every subject (although, arguably, literacy underpins it all).

I think I am right in saying that, until recently, boys overtook at A Level and have now fallen behind there, too.

We obediently read to both our DSs as children .One still reads (although is not avid) and the other rarely picks up a book but has pretty good literacy. he still underperformed at school, though.

I did hear a boy in my form class the other day quite proudly proclaiming he had read a whole book recently. Still, at least he was pleased!

I think PPs are right that boys are not focused on in the way girls are (although no one seemed all that bothered 35 years ago and more when girls were doing less well) or that sticking plaster approaches are used. Boys Don't Try is a good book but I am not sure it really offers any practical solutions.

Tippexy Sat 08-Feb-20 13:14:59

White working class boys, typically with no positive male role model. This is the issue.

Ladon20 Sat 08-Feb-20 13:49:06

DS really struggled with English and writing in school in England. And the all teachers had loads of excuses, boys matured later etc etc so nothing was ever done to help him.

Had the same - we stepped in at home with support.

DS was also had some terrible messages about boys and reading from his primary school teachers - one told us boys don't read when we'd just said what a book worm he was. Similarly our girls have had negative mesages around maths and girls - mainly that it's hard and for boys.

Many kids did seem to get similar messages at home as well.

What I saw did make me wonder if this was reason for working class boys doing so bad - the more middle class parents did seem to advocated better for their boys and stepped in quicker with outside help. Though how universal that is I don't know.

Piggywaspushed Sat 08-Feb-20 14:10:53

It's the hidden curriculum :ask any sociology teacher!

But I do think it is typical a massive over simplification to blame teachers and schools. There are wider socio-economic and cultural factors at play.

Ladon20 Sat 08-Feb-20 14:38:36

There are wider socio-economic and cultural factors at play.

I'm not saying there's not - or that it's every teacher.

I am personally incredibly grateful to some of the regular teachers who post on the primary boards who helped us when I was fobbed off again and again with DS.

But I have experience teachers with a lack of ambition and frankly with the ongoing budget constraints in schools they’re hardly in a better position to offer greater support to struggling children than in prevous years.

SanjiNami Sat 08-Feb-20 14:54:57

This is very interesting. I have read the news in my own country, that they were manipulating entrance exam result for medical school in one of the uni, that they gave extra points for boys, otherwise girls would dominate.
And we are not white country. So, it's not just white boys problem.

Piggywaspushed Sat 08-Feb-20 15:51:45

Sorry if I was unclear : I meant that the media and the government over simplify by focusing on educational under achievement rather than considering the bigger picture : so that, like everything, it becomes schools' jobs to 'solve' societal ills.

Rosieposy4 Sat 08-Feb-20 19:56:40

I made it one of performance management targets last year to raise the grades of underperforming boys. It worked too well and the boys massively outperformed the girls, how to get the balance is much harder.

Alsoplayspiccolo Sat 08-Feb-20 21:15:33

I haven't read the whole thread yet, so apologies if I'm repeating PPs.

I have a DS and a DD.
When DD started at school, her teacher said that girls are ready to learn from the start of reception, whereas boys "want to roll around the floor and wrestle". She felt that boys should be allowed to expend their energy, rather than being made to sit at desks and work.

From the moment DS started school (different school), his teacher was determined to make him and the other boys "behave"; at the age of 5, he was put on a behaviour report for putting water in the same tray, and every positive behaviour mark was negated if he then got a negative. Lots of the boys got similar treatment, but it was virtually unheard of for any of the girls to be disciplined, even if they behaved in a similar way.
Likewise, a girl asking "why" was seen as curious, where a boy was seen as cheeky/rude/disrespectful.

When DS moved up to the only male teacher in primary school, that teacher would yell at the boys...but not the girls.

DS is nearly 14 now, and DD is 16.
DS is bright and able. He thrives when teachers don't try to squash him or insist he stays "inside the lines" - that doesn't mean he has to have his own way in class, just that he does better with teachers that engage with him, take an interest in what he has to say around a subject etc.
Luckily, he's at a school that is boy-heavy, with lots of quirky and inspiring teachers who know how to get the best out boys, whilst keeping a fair and steady hand on any behaviour issues. Consequently, DS is thriving and working hard.

DS and DD are so totally different in what motivates them; I know this is down to personality, in part, but I also think it's a gender thing and until schools recognise that one-size doesn't fit all, I can't see boy's achievement improving.

I also wonder if the highly prescriptive nature of GCSEs, with their rigid mark schemes, just doesn't suit boys in the way it might suit girls?

Alsoplayspiccolo Sat 08-Feb-20 21:17:08

water in the sand tray

larasmynone Tue 11-Feb-20 07:49:42

Boys on average do underperform. Interestingly, many still use the phrase 'like a girl' is an insult.

I think if attitudes towards women in more general terms changed and men started to see women as equals and not inferior, boys then may see girls as genuine competition and rise to the challenge. Currently they see girls reading and therefore don't want to read because generally it is seen as inferior to be like a girl.

Another example of this is when I watch primary aged children playing mixed sport. The girls pass equally to the child in a good position. The boys pass to a boy whether they are in the best position or not. This happens all the time. Choice between losing or passing to a girl often losing is the better choice.

NewModelArmyMayhem18 Thu 13-Feb-20 16:13:52

I wonder whether it's because girls are better at following orders, doing what's required/what they're told to do and performing to rigid mark schemes?

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