Failing our boys at school: so what can we do to turn things around?

Anna Maxted, writing in the Times, says the education system was changed to prevent girls underachieving at school, but now we must take action to save the boys. Hare are some extracts…

…Recent Government statistics revealed that a staggering one in five boys at secondary school is now categorised as having a special educational need…

The recent figures also reveal a startling gulf between the sexes: almost 3 per cent of boys in secondary school have what’s called a statement of SEN (special educational needs). This means their needs are specialised enough to cost their school more than £6,000 a year, and the local authority has agreed to meet any further costs (such as a certain number of hours of occupational therapy per week). Only 1 per cent of girls are given a statement. Meanwhile, a massive 20.7 per cent of boys in secondary education have a special educational need without a statement, compared with 13.4 per cent of girls (this means their special needs are funded by the school alone).

…So are boys let down by our education system? Nearly all mothers of sons have some appalling tale of sexist treatment in school. One friend, an educational psychologist, conducted an experiment: she asked 50 children who their teachers spoke more kindly to — boys, girls, or both the same. Every single child agreed their teachers were nicer to girls…

One SEN teacher, Louise Mayhew, based in Birmingham, is brought into schools to advise staff on supporting children with behavioural difficulties. She works with boys who have been neglected in their early years and “need compensation” but meet the opposite: “Some teachers are very quick to target boys’ negative behaviour. Girls can also be inappropriate but they rarely affect the teacher’s teaching. Boys act out in class. Girls act out in the playground.”

It’s not so much that boys have a bad attitude — more that we have a bad attitude towards boys. “In some areas, white, working-class boys are often just left,” adds Mayhew. “Some teachers are really unable to think about the needs of boys. They just want children to work and behave.” Many boys, says Hallett, are labelled as having “a social or communication disorder. They aren’t diagnosed with autism or Asperger’s.” They simply have trouble communicating, which now apparently counts as a special educational need. Hallett, who works in a deprived area, adds, “I feel that certain working-class parents look for an excuse for their child’s behaviour. So many more children have got diagnoses of ADHD — it’s alarming. In some cases it’s a label for misunderstood behavioural issues. Sometimes the behaviour is a result of inadequate parenting.”

…Boys could do better — and they actually would, if only we put more faith in them. Professor Geoff Lindsay, the director of the Centre for Educational Development, Appraisal and Research at the University of Warwick, says, “Evidence indicates that where schools have high expectations of boys’ behaviour, rather than their achievement, there’s then a positive impact on achievement. We’ve done research in highly successful schools from disadvantaged areas that buck the trend. That’s to do with school leadership, and an attitude that then pervades the whole system.”

…Meanwhile, our rough, dismissive treatment of boys “adds social insult to biological injury” claims the NHS Whittington Hospital’s consultant child psychiatrist, Dr Sebastian Kraemer, writing in theBritish Medical Journal. Boys are more fragile from birth, and male mortality rates are higher than female mortality rates throughout life. “But,” he says, his tone incredulous, “people don’t seem to have connected those things.” Professor Lindsay agrees: “To some extent, this [SEN situation] is developmental; boys are more vulnerable.”

What is needed, he adds, is “appropriate expectations, and the improvement of education generally”. Twenty years ago, he says, the problem was girls’ underachievement; this was addressed by changes in the education system. Now that there’s “a systemic recognition of what’s happening to boys, and in particular, to working-class boys,” Professor Lindsay is cautiously optimistic that the problem will be tackled…

More at:  Failing our boys at school: so what can we do to turn things around? (subscription required)

Are schools currently less well adapted for boys than girls, especially working class boys, and should action be taken to level things up? Let us know if you agree. And if so, what changes would you like to see to make a difference? Please share in the comments or on twitter…  

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Categories: Teaching.


  1. TeaLadyJune

    SchoolsImprove A balanced 21st C curric & no memorising basic facts – look them up in a sec!. They need to think & do challenging things!

  2. changepatriot

    TeaLadyJune SchoolsImprove Gove has no idea about key role of child development knowledge fr tchrs in relation 2 life skills acquisition!

  3. Reamitchell

    SchoolsImprove Hate message:’give them short time bonded tasks.’This is not what real life is like! Patience, concentration and resilience

  4. Reamitchell

    SchoolsImprove are the skills needed. We must build opportunities for this into planning otherwise we are not allowing boys to succeed.

  5. Reamitchell

    SchoolsImprove I think it is this naive rhetoric that is to blame for the number of NEET boys compared to girls.

  6. Miss_Wilsey

    SchoolsImprove Summer 2011 we piloted a gender split for our GCSE English key marginals group. 16 in each class. The boys kicked butt!

  7. Miss_Wilsey

    SchoolsImprove … they needed louder, more active lessons. (Creative chaos!) Loving competition they rose to the challenge. 13/6 got a C.

  8. LearnWLesley

    Miss_Wilsey SchoolsImprove as a parent of boy who hates English thanks to poor teaching at his school well done he would love your lessons

  9. GAKhan1

    CarbisRichard SchoolsImprove :A life without ambition has no direction. Motivational talks to inspire our students,boys or girls, is reqd.

  10. Miss_Wilsey

    LearnWLesley SchoolsImprove The lessons were rowdy bordering on creative chaos but appealed to their visual/ kinaesthetic learning styles!

  11. Miss_Wilsey

    LearnWLesley SchoolsImprove Surprisingly the girls totally under-performed and our gender achievement trend was inverted!

  12. LearnWLesley

    Miss_Wilsey as a parent to boy & girl I think boys get a rough deal, no wonder they switch off. Hats off to u 4 making a ho of it

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