Britain’s boys do seem to be having an increasingly poor time of it. Poorer academic achievement than girls, more neurological problems, tacit suppression of emotional difficulties, increasing mental health problems, lack of a positive male role model in many families and classrooms, and for the lowest ranking – a poor future. One consequence is that there are now 65,000 more unemployed male NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training) than female(1). White working class children now consistently achieve lower academic results than other comparable socio-economic
or ethnic groups, with boys significantly poorer than girls. Fewer boys proceed to sixth form level, with girls now taking significantly more A-level exam subjects.
As a result, girls continue to out-perform boys at A-level. They continue to take significantly more exam subjects than boys and significantly more girls than boys are getting better grades except for A* in traditional subjects, such as mathematics and chemistry, although girls appear to be steadily catching up on these. In 2016, some 86 thousand more A-level subject papers were taken by girls than boys, and girls achieved in all subjects some 61 thousand more top grades A*+A+B than boys(2).
Boys have not always underachieved by comparison to girls(6). Available records for ‘school leavers’ go back to 1963 when boys had a slightly higher success rate at GCSE/CSE. Girls’ higher success rate started in 1970, and by 1989 the rate had increased to 6% more than boys at 16 years old achieving the criterion of five or more passes A*-C1. It appears that social and cultural changes over that period, inside and outside school, may well have worked to the general disadvantage of boys. The continuing underachievement of boys is evident at all stages of education, starting at 5 years of age and culminating in a smaller proportion of male university students. It is observed throughout the various school based assessment stages, starting at primary school (ages 5, 7 and 11 years), then at GCSE and A-level, and in the UK university population.
Over a period of more than twenty years, boys have remained disproportionately disadvantaged with little effectively done to help. It seems likely that the position would have been deemed unacceptable if it were girls experiencing such disadvantage. Are boys therefore being ignored in the equality stakes?
Whatever the research may show, there is a general consensus and concern that more male teachers are needed, particularly in primary schools. Boys need boundaries and strong direction from ‘male mentors’ at an early age. The Government has in the past accepted the need for more male teachers(2), but so far with little obvious result. It is not clear how seriously the Government takes the issue. Articles on the need for more male teachers appear regularly in the press(3).
Some critics(4) complain that boys are being betrayed by our education system. There appears urgent need, therefore, to explore the phenomenon of boys’ academic under-achievement in a rigorous and impartial manner, so that Government and educational policies can be informed constructively on ways to address it effectively and fairly. In time, this will help to promote the fuller access and participation in society, both academically and generally, of under-achieving children, both boys and girls. It will also help to raise standards generally, including behavioural, and in particular help the children concerned to a better quality of life in personal terms.
There is now clear evidence of a persisting ‘gap’ in the overall academic achievements of boys compared to girls, as the annual GCSE and A-level results published each summer demonstrate. This gap has widened from about 2% in 1988/89 (when GCSEs replaced O-levels) to over 10% today, with an even wider gap in literacy amongst some cohorts. Although girls also under-achieve academically, the great majority of under-achievers are working class boys. The Government is well aware of the problem, and some initiatives have been put in place, but to date there has been little discernible improvement.
4 Children, both boys and girls, who are at present under-achieving academically, are likely to face life-long socio-economic disadvantage in consequence. There is increasing anxiety amongst parents and educational authorities and the public over this continuing academic gap and educational standards generally, which affects some ethnic groups more than others. Research also suggests a relationship with both socio-economic and parental status. Clear and determined action by the Government and education world to address this persisting inequality is essential, if the country is really serious about the basic concept of ‘equality.
View Full Article Here.