Recently, I was able to research and dive a little deeper to try and find the answer to a question many secondary school leaders would like to know: why do boys (on average) consistently achieve less in terms of outcomes, than girls, at GCSE level?
Undoubtedly, the pandemic caused changes to GCSEs and outcomes. But how long will it be until we see the return of the large gap between girls and boys as seen over the past 10 to 15 years? According to Ofqual (GCSE outcomes in England), the boy-to-girl gap for GCSE outcomes (grade C/4+) over the last ten years (research conducted in 2019) has never been less than 6.9% at the national level.
National data also shows that in every ethnic group girls made more progress than boys between 11 and 16 years olds (pupil progress between 11 and 16 – ethnicity facts and figures gov.uk published October 2019). Also, girls had a higher average progress 8 score than boys in every local authority in England.
Pinkett and Roberts (2019) identified a significant problem in our schools: too many boys are struggling (in their research ‘Boys Don’t’ Try’). They also go on to suggest that boys do try – well, some of them do. Despite the national trend of boys’ relative educational underachievement in comparison to girls, there are many boys who try very hard at school and achieve great success as a result. However, for every boy who tried to succeed, another tries to fail – or so it seems. Pinkett and Roberts suggest several areas that need to be challenged to improve outcomes for boys; competition, students teaching each other, games, topics that are relevant and using technology, to list a few. After reading the work of Pinkett and Roberts, I decided to create a survey for boys at my previous secondary school in Essex to discover what they would really like to see in lessons. Pair/group work, making it fun, active learning and competition were the top answers, alongside writing, which came as a surprise.
John Hattie has completed many studies and research into education, but one that I found particularly interesting was one that discusses the ‘self-handicapping of students’. We must stop students ‘self-handicapping’. This occurs when students choose impediments or obstacles to performance that enable them to deflect the cause of failure away from their competence towards the acquired impediments. Reducing effort, having little or no practice for upcoming tasks, exaggerating obstacles to success and procrastination are all examples demonstrated by students in year 11, not just boys. Hattie (2012) suggests that we can reduce the level by:
Creating more success in learning
Reducing the uncertainty about learning outcomes
Teaching students to become better monitors of their own learning
Gary Wilson (2008) suggests that there are 14 barriers to boys’ achievements. I have identified the top three that I feel are strongly relatable to students from my experience:
Negative attitudes to writing
Inability to plan and prepare effectively
Low self-esteem and limiting self-beliefs
Wilson suggests that if boys have a stronger sense of competence and having a ‘mission’, then low self-esteem and self-belief can be dramatically improved. We need to increase students’ lack of self-belief by showing them that they can achieve, and that they are learning. Also, if boys feel like the task at hand is relevant, or that it has a meaning and direction, one in which they can see the end goal, this can help to improve motivation and provide a sense of improved self-belief. Limiting self-belief and low self-esteem are significant barriers to boys’ achievements. We must empower boys and try to build feelings of competence and self-belief.