We must address the underachievement of boys in education

Boys are falling behind in education and the problem can no longer be ignored.

There is a gender gap in education. New government figures have revealed that 50.46 percent of boys have failed to meet the new, tougher standard in their SAT exams.

As alarming as this is, it is not surprising; it is part of a long term pattern. We have seen a steady decline of lower educational achievement by boys, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

This is a real and very serious problem that absolutely must be addressed. It has been apparent for decades yet we never see a Secretary of State for Education taking a strong stance on it and promising firm action. It’s difficult to imagine the government implementing policies and funding initiatives to specifically address the underachievement of boys in education.

The STEM campaign – an initiative to get more girls into technology, industry and science – is quite rightly lauded, yet will we ever see the launch of a programme to improve the attainment of boys in our education system? As the evidence of a widening gap in achievement piles ever higher, it is time we began to consider it.

The Department of Education must launch a coordinated drive in conjunction with schools and teachers to raise the attainment of boys. First of all, we must enquire into the causes. Are certain teaching methods disadvantageous to boys? We have seen major reforms to the national curriculum but not enough discussion of the ways in which methods of teaching and learning effect boys and girls differently.

There is plenty of research that shows that boys and girls differ in their learning styles, behaviour and development of maturity. A modern education system must take this into account. Boys are said to benefit more from disciplined and demanding whole-class teaching and exams over continuous assessment. Single sex classes, at least in certain subjects, could therefore be a key factor in closing the achievement gap.

Changes in GCSEs and A-Levels removing coursework may prove to benefit boys, but the abolition of the AS exam will likely not. Was this taken into consideration at all? There can be no excuses for not examining the glaring evidence of the underachievement of boys when designing education policy and considering its potential impact.

What really stands out however, especially in primary education, is the worrying dearth of male teachers. 80 percent of the state school workforce is female; an astonishing 85 percent of primary school teachers are female, and 62 percent in secondary. At the last count, official figure showed that nearly a million primary school children do not have a male teacher, with 3,727 primary schools in England lacking any male teachers at all, up from 3,680 in 2014.

This is a tragedy for boys.

Male primary school teachers are vital role models for boys of primary school age particularly, with numerous studies showing that male teachers encouraged them to work harder and display less disruptive behaviour. The presence of male teachers is also a great benefit to their social development, especially with the epidemic of broken families and fatherless homes which is particularly disastrous for the poor working class.

Sadly, too many men are put off teaching by the perception of it now being a feminine profession and the concerns about people being suspicious of their motives for wanting to work with young children. This attitude, as I said in a recent article for the Telegraph, is something I have experienced both as a victim and as a hypocritical perpetrator.  I can also say first hand that when I considered going into primary school teaching myself, the fact that I didn’t meet any men in any of the several primaries I visited very much put me off. I felt odd.

A culture change is required and that is not going to be easy. [Tweet “A prolonged and concerted national campaign to attract men into teaching, especially at primary level, is an absolute must”]. And part of that requires a change in attitude to how we think about teaching; giving this essential, life-changing profession the praise and prestige it deserves.

This problem with boys cannot be allowed to fester. Those failed by our education system, especially the children of the poor, will lead frustrated lives. They will never realise their full potential, which is severely detrimental to the individual and our society. In the worst case scenario uneducated boys will go from feeling disengaged and marginalised at school, straight to unemployment, crime and political extremism.


 Ben is the Conservatives for Liberty Online Director.  Follow him on Twitter: @TheScepticIsle

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The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty

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