Boys in the Classroom Environment.

In the extract from an article written in the New York Times what we discover is that the underachievement of boys is almost a global problem. Are we really living in an age where boys are continually underperforming or is this simply perception over reality? In the English media this week many articles have focussed on the fact that 1 in 4 boys are on the Special Needs register.

  1. Nearly one in four boys at state school has special needs, statistics › Education › Education News

    3 days ago – Nearly one in four state school boys is classed as having specialeducational needs, almost double the number of girls, statistics show.

This is extremely significant. It leads to many questions however three appear the most important to consider in my opinion,

1) is the curriculum or lesson opportunities fully engaging the boys?

2) Is the school environment appealing to both genders?

3) Do boys catch up in later life?

Question 1:

1) Is the curriculum or lesson opportunities fully engaging the boys?

“The Boys at the Back

By CHRISTINA HOFF SOMMERS These efforts should start early, but even high school isn’t too late. Consider Aviation High School in New York City. A faded orange brick building with green aluminum trim, it fits comfortably with its gritty neighbors — a steelyard, a tool-supply outlet and a 24-hour gas station and convenience store — in Long Island City, Queens.

On a visit to Aviation I observed a classroom of 14- and 15-year-olds focused on constructing miniaturized, electrically wired airplane wings from mostly raw materials. In another class, students worked in teams — with a student foreman and crew chief — to take apart and then rebuild a small jet engine in just 20 days. In addition to pursuing a standard high school curriculum, Aviation students spend half of the day in hands-on classes on airframes, hydraulics and electrical systems.

They put up with demanding English and history classes because unless they do well in them, they cannot spend their afternoons tinkering with the engine of a Cessna 411. The school’s 2,200 pupils — mostly students of color, from low-income households — have a 95 percent attendance rate and a 90 percent graduation rate, with 80 percent going on to college. The school is coed; although girls make up only 16 percent of the student population, they appear to be flourishing.

The New York City Department of Education has repeatedly awarded Aviation an “A” on its annual school progress reports. U.S. News & World Report has cited it as one of the best high schools in the nation. “The school is all about structure,” an assistant principal, Ralph Santiago, told me. The faculty emphasizes organization, precision, workmanship and attention to detail. The students are kept so busy and are so fascinated with what they are doing that they have neither the time nor the desire for antics. ”

This is an excellent blog and well worth a read. The key factor from the article that answers my question quite simply is that the boys are engaged in their learning. They want to do well in order to be rewarded with practical opportunities to have practical hands on activities that feel meaningful. I believe that boys achieve more when they are doing something for a specific purpose. As a teacher I have found that boys perform well when they know that they will achieve something at the end e.g. instead of writing a fake letter to complain about rubbish in the environment, they prefer to write and send the letter to a real Councillor. Girls in very general terms are considered to be more inclined to do their best and thus achieve more whilst in School. I do not fully agree with this statement however the facts remain that a gender gap exists.

In Wales, we have an opportunity to fully develop a curriculum that excites and engages both genders. With the inception of the Literacy and Numeracy framework, the teachers can take control and facilitate learning that inspires a generation of pupils.

Many books in my experience have appealed to both boys and girls. Here are a list of books that I have used and some that I have seen being used to inspire all pupils.

The Sheep Pig by Dick King Smith

The Iron Man by Ted Hughes

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson

Matilda by Roald Dahl

Charlie and the Choclate Factory by Roald Dahl

The Tempest by William Shakespeare

Branwen A Welsh Legend from the Mabinogi

Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian

The War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

The list is endless. In many ways it is often the skill of the teacher that makes a story come alive. It is also teaching techniques that can succeed in engaging boys. The link below leads you to a website written by Dr Peter West in Australia. He has some fantastic links on learning strategize for boys. My favourite is a PDF file on ‘Ten things Teachers can do to help boys learn’. This is practical advice for all teachers across the Globe.

I agree that boys need to be actively involved, moving straight into the lesson and understanding each step. They thrive on competition against each other and often respond to positive reinforcement. It is a very useful document that could be adapted and integrated into a Teaching and Learning policy. Many boys thoroughly enjoy hands on activities in Science. Their curiosity comes to the fore. They are prepared to experiment and make mistakes but they also like the reassurance of guidance and a model to follow. This is also true in all subjects including Maths and more language based subjects e.g. Religious Education.

In a Nursery or Reception class, boys are constantly experimenting, pushing boundaries and developing an understanding of social behaviour. They are learning how to learn and very often this will involve a practical application. They enjoy the role play area as much as the girls and they will cook, clean, dress up, paint, colour and of course play ball. It is therefore important that similar opportunities are available throughout their education. To investigate, make mistakes and learn in a fun and practical manner.

Boys also tend to achieve more in writing when a success criteria is clearly identified for them.  The more structured the route to success appears the better the majority of the boys are able to perform.

Question 2:

2) Is the school environment appealing to both genders?

The extract below comes from a website discussing life in the 1960’s.

“It was a well known fact that girls were smarter than boys. It didn’t matter who she was; if she was female, she was smarter.”



A perception exists that boys are more fidgety, listen less, interfere more and generally disrupt lessons. Yet, if all this was true for every boy how do they succeed as men?

When discussing the School Environment, many traditionalists dream of the age of discipline. They firmly believe that the regimented approach of the military would bring out the best in boys. There is an argument to say that boys do require clearly identified parameters for behaviour with a clearly identified consequence. I also believe that boys respond well to routines. On this basis perhaps we can see how a structured day could be of benefit to boys but they also require understanding, positive reinforcement and a belief that all boys deserve praise not only the strongest. The boy that is labelled as being a geek or swot requires less discipline and more emotional support. Not all boys are hands on some prefer the comfort of books or conversation. These boys are often forgotten when discussing the gender gap. The well being of all boys is therefore crucial to their success. Academic boys, those that often answer questions and enjoy learning are often bullied by their peers. I do not use the term bullied lightly. They can live a life of sheer frustration constantly being called names or being pushed in the corridor or having their ruck sack thrown about the place. In some cases this can lead to some boys hiding their ability or losing all self confidence. Peer pressure can be a negative force for boys during their teenage life. Schools need to make every effort to celebrate all achievements, to support academic success and to celebrate the work of those pupils more adept to hands on activities. If we can take away the negative effect of peer pressure and turn it into a positive then hopefully we can succeed in closing the gender gap that exists today.

Grammar schools for boys and public boarding schools for boys was the norm for wealthy families during the Victorian Age. Many people believe that a single sex school would benefit pupils today. I feel that this can lead to social difficulties in later life and it also reinforces the gender stereotypes however where I believe the Schools for boys did succeed and still prevail today is by balancing a curriculum very effectively with extra curricular activities. In many ways this is not dissimilar to the ‘Aviation’ school as discussed earlier.

Extra curricular activities are therefore essential in order to provide an enriched curriculum that appeals to both genders.

Boys need a sense of reward as indicated in my first question. If a school can engender an ethos of improvement with reward for achievement the often a boy will respond with greater enthusiasm. For teachers, I think that we must make sure that when displaying work that we celebrate both genders. I have been in many classes where the majority of displayed work belongs to the girls because the work is deemed to be neater or of a better quality. What does this say to the boys? A few teachers perceive boys to be naughtier than girls and this can also have a detrimental effect on performance. If we are truly aiming to achieve a fair and caring ethos for all then it is important to eradicate preconceptions and treat every pupil as an individual. Perhaps this is the key, it is not a gender issue but an issue that we should be considered at the level of the individual.

Question 3:

3) Do boys catch up in later life?

The three links below demonstrate that men earn more than women in both the USA and UK.

“Step aside, guys. Women are moving up the payroll.  According to a March “Women at Work” report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the gender wage gap continues to narrow. Women earned 81 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2010, up from 76 cents in 2000. Moreover, recent reports suggest that young urban women now earn 8% more than male peers, likely due to higher college graduation rates. The fact remains, however, that men still earn more in almost every U.S. occupation—except in a telling few.”

“Despite the popular sentiment that women have nearly closed the gender gap in the workplace, men continue to get the vast majority of high-paying jobs, new research shows. The study from the Center for Research on Gender in the Professions at the University of California, San Diego found that while recent high-profile stories in Slate and the New York Times have helped popularize the theory that the role of men in the workplace is declining, women continue to lag behind in securing top-level positions.”

“The gender pay gap is still present for graduates, as women with the same degree as men earn up to £8,000 less study finds.

Female graduates earn thousands of pounds less than their male counterparts – even if they studied the same subject at university. One in five men are paid more than £30,000 after their degree, compared with just 8% of women who earn the same.”

It would be very simple to state that boys do catch up and overtake their female counterparts but many different reasons are responsible for the later difference in the gender pay gap including social stereotypes.

What the articles do not discuss is that the boys that lost all interest in School life have also been excluded from an interest in their community. They feel isolated and excluded from society. They tend to lack all hope and try and fill a void in their lives through artificial means.

We can not afford to lose these pupils. They need to have hope, a greater sense of self worth and a belief that their skills can make a difference.

We will still need electricians, plumbers, carpenters, builders, drivers, academics, engineers, scientists, doctors nurses etc All these careers require a number of different skills and I believe that all schools should celebrate the abilities of every child and respond to the need of the individual whether they are boys or girls.

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