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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 September, 2003, 17:44 GMT 18:44 UK
School works to help boys
Boys have fallen behind girls in school results around the globe

In the space of a generation, boys have gone from expecting to be the best at school, to an assumption that they will be the worst.

This isn't only a trend in the United Kingdom, an international survey from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows that around the world, girls are winning the academic race.

They are better at school, much more likely to go to university and are expecting to take the better-paid jobs.

Young men lack confidence, which they mask with a show of bravado. They're uncertain about their place in society
Penny Lewis, head teacher

But a head teacher in a Leeds comprehensive school has taken steps to ensure that boys do not fail - and she has bucked the trend, with boys this year achieving better results than girls at GCSE and A-level.

Penny Lewis, head of Allerton High School, which draws its pupils from multi-cultural, inner-city areas of Leeds, says that tackling the poor academic performance of boys is a major challenge for the education system.

"The underachievement of boys is very worrying and schools have to address it," she says.

"Young men lack confidence, which they mask with a show of bravado. They're uncertain about their place in society."

John Dunford
John Dunford says that girls' educational success reflects wider social changes

Her boy pupils might also have grown up in families with no male role models, brought up by single mothers, aunts and grandmothers.

In her school, there has been an attempt to identify boys who are underachieving and to provide extra support, including mentoring.

"This might mean chasing the boy. They might not turn up when they're meant to, it might mean going to them."

Cool to learn

It also means changing the teaching style, as she says that boys cannot cope with large chunks of work stretching out over time. Instead, they work better with smaller amounts of work with more immediate deadlines.

There also has to be a challenge to the idea that learning is not "cool". The head says that schools have to "over-ride the testosterone and the peer group pressure", which can disrupt boys' learning.

Penny Lewis says that it is important for society as a whole, and not just the education system, to have well-educated males - and that efforts have to be taken so that boys don't drift out of school without qualifications.

The leader of the Secondary Heads Association, John Dunford, also says that the academic failure of boys is a problem which has its roots in society, rather than just the classroom.

And he says that part of the bigger picture is the changing labour market and the loss of traditionally male jobs.

Role reversal

"Girls, more than boys, nowadays see education as a passport to a good job.

"We need to look at the what has changed in society to explain why this huge change has come about."

Identifying the pace of change, he says that when he was a head teacher, he was attending courses about how to raise the achievement of girls - now the situation is reversed.

"Fifteen years ago, schools were criticised for the under-performance of girls and many measures have been taken by schools to improve the situation.

"Now that girls have drawn ahead, schools are working hard to raise boys' achievement, but schools find that techniques that make it easier for boys to learn usually help girls too," said Mr Dunford.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said that the achievements of girls should be celebrated.

"It is important to celebrate the success of girls and not to engage in a dialogue of despair about the performance of boys. Boys' achievement is rising, but not at the rate as that of girls.

"We need more research not only into why boys' rate of achievement is not rising but we need to focus on what girls are doing right to achieve their success."

Girls top of the class worldwide
16 Sep 03  |  Education
Global gender gap in education
02 Jul 03  |  Education
Girls keep outstripping boys in exams
14 Aug 03  |  Education

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