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Some Boys but not all boys

Updated: Feb 28, 2023

Too often boy’s underachievement is described in generalized ways, making it sound as though we have a far bigger problem than we have (3 minute read).

If you Google Boys and Education, at least half of the first page offers headlines such as "mind the gap", "boy-friendly teaching strategies", and "rethinking masculinity in schools", and it's easy to conclude we have a significant Boy and achievement crisis.

Not surprisingly, sites state the problem, what they think is the reason for the problem and then offer solutions. Unfortunately, if you are off the mark with the problem, you will likely be the same for explanations and solutions.

Those sites more accurately describe the problem as the 10-15% of boys that account for the gender difference between boys and girls at most levels of education (and indeed from Early Years to GCSEs). That is 10 to 15 every hundred, a lot, but not enough to justify generalising about All Boys.

If boys are the problem, it follows that the reasons are "boy's motivation", "masculinity", and “boys giving up”, and then generalised strategies such as "boy-friendly teaching styles", "adventure books", and "superhero activities".

If we more accurately describe the problem as 2-3 a class on average, we are not looking for generalised solutions targeting Boys but identifying individuals. Of course, schools monitor progress regularly (some would say too much), so those boys will stand out, but these boys' common characteristics may be a more helpful starting point.

Some characteristics have screamed at us in our Early Years and primary work. They are:

1. Unwilling or reluctant to follow instructions and do what most of the class does.

2. Low verbal and poor communication skills.

3. High physical and struggle to sit down or do table-based learning.

4. Higher emotions than most, especially emotions that lead to conflict and movement.

5. Lack of interest and/or struggle with classroom learning.

6. Combinations usually lead to poorer social skills and too much teacher attention.

These might be characteristics that more boys than girls show, but they are not All Boys or Only Boys. We might more accurately describe these as Boy Leaning.

One of the problems with identifying characteristics is that generalised reasons for these also become difficult. So while motivation, masculinity, giving up, peer pressure and the many other reasons highlighted in the literature may play their part, the generalisations about even the 2 or 3 in one class become more difficult to identify and less important when looking at what we can do.

If a boy's communication skills are low and underused, we have to increase these directly and urgently. If a boy is reluctant to follow the instructions that most others in their class follow, the challenge is to increase their ability and willingness to follow instructions. Individual and targeted strategies replace the generalised "all boy" approaches advocated on too many Google websites.

What do you think?

Does this fit with your experience?

Are these the six areas common to those underachieving boys in your class/school?



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