When I was a boy in the 1960s boys did less well at primary school than girls. And it was the case then, as it is now, that the overwhelming majority of primary school teachers were women. But in secondary schools, especially when it came to the important exams, boys outperformed girls at that time. In those days it was far more common than it is now for boys to attend single-sex secondary schools. The rise of the comprehensive schools largely did away with that, excepting a small number of surviving selective grammar schools and 'public' (i.e., private) schools. Over the last 45 years, the percentage of male secondary school teachers in the UK has dropped from >60% to 38%. Over that same period boys have been overtaken by girls in performance at secondary school, the gap between the genders growing ever wider. I am not a teacher or an educationalist. I have no special knowledge of educational matters. But simply from these observations there is a prima facie case that boys' changing academic performance might be a result of the change in the dominant sex of their teachers, and/or the unisex or single-sex teaching environment.
However, over that same period there have been other significant changes in UK schools that will also have contributed to the relative performance of boys and girls. When girls were underperforming (several decades ago now) it was regarded as axiomatic that this must be the result of anti-female sexism in schools. Strenuous action was taken to counter this, which we might call the "feminisation of schooling". So whether the nature of schooling, or the nature of the exams (including more extensive use of course work), or the increasing dominance of female teachers was the cause, the improved academic performance of girls was certainly the result. What is disturbing is that since it has been boys underperforming, I never hear anyone claim that this might be due to anti-male sexism. It's just never said. It's not allowed. Instead, the fault lies with boys. It's the way they behave, don't you know. They just don't apply themselves. They don't try. They just muck about. They are just too...well, too laddish. The problem with boys is that they are boys. If only they were more like girls then they would be fine. The underperformance of boys is their own fault. So why is it, then, that this was not previously the case - when I was at school? No one bothers to explain this. Anyone of my age who takes the historical perspective on schooling cannot help but be struck by the different attitude taken to girls historic underperformance and boys current underperformance. The former led to major changes in schooling to accomodate girls, the latter has so far led only to blaming boys for being boys. And, surprise, surprise, the decline of boys' academic performance has occurred over the same period that feminism has become the dominant philosophy. Could it possibly be that boys' underperformance in an environment dominated by women teachers is related to the general denigration of men in our society? Do you think that young boys do not pick up on the societal expectation that they will fail?
In my next essay I have collected some data on the declining performance of boys at all stages of education in the UK: primary, secondary and at university/college. I have also included data on the sex of teachers. So,
(I suggest you just scroll down to the Summary on page 30 initially)
Why are boys doing so much worse academically than girls? The above essay makes some suggestions. Here I am simply going to illustrate a view on the possible cause at primary school level using the brilliant experiment by Gareth Malone in 2010. These were three one-hour programmes shown on BBC TV in 2010. I've put the YouTube link to the first video below, and you can follow on to the next two videos on YouTube yourself. What these programmes revealed to me was explosive. I fully expected there to be a mass public out-cry the day after their broadcast, followed by an immediate shake-up of our schools. How naive I was. Nothing has happened. Three years later everyone is still content to watch boys go down the plug hole that society has prepared for them - despite these programmes demonstrating clearly how this can be avoided, at least at primary school level. But the horrible truth is that no one cares enough about boys to act on this fine example. So watch,
What is that Gareth, who is not even a teacher, brings to these boys? It's easy isn't it? He brings concern, respect and a willingness to treat them as boys, not as failed girls. I was shocked by the teachers themselves. How did standards fall so far? Their diction, poise and appearance are not what I would have expected from a teacher. Ask youself: are these women desirable role models? They are not even desirable role models for the girls, let alone the boys. But, of course, no female can be a good role model for boys, because boys know that they are not going to grow up to be a woman.
What strikes me on watching these videos again is that it is not only the boys' reading and writing that is behind; they cannot express themselves coherently in speech either. As the head teacher says, this is their fundamental problem. Why? Is no one speaking to boys? There is a clue here that the problem does not lie entirely in the schools. The other over-arching problem the boys face is their chronic lack of confidence, essentially a lack of self-esteem as regards school work. Logically there are only two possibilities: either boys are intrinsically stupid, and low self esteem is therefore inevitable, or the lack of confidence is a result of how they have been treated by their teachers or at home. The former possibility is ruled out by boys' historic academic dominance over girls. That the teachers' attitude towards boys is likely to have led to their low self-esteem is evident from what the teachers themselves say. In the first episode, when the teachers give Gareth his "first appraisal", it is clear that they are champing at the bit to criticise him. This is what they think of Gareth's approach of allowing the boys to be boys by permitting them plenty of time outside the classroom, including a great deal of physicl activity: some of their remarks were,
- They can't handle having too much fun. I'm sorry to say that, but...
- Their behaviour has gone backwards
- To see him go backwards from where I got him is distressing
- They've got to have structure
- They've got to learn that you're in charge
The struggle to overcome the boys' lack of confidence stands in such stark contrast to the feminist position that it is girls who suffer from low self-esteem. Recall "Take Your Daughters to Work Day" which Gloria Steinem and her feminist organisation the Ms. Foundation for Women claimed was to address self-esteem issues unique to girls? I don't think so. The debate between the boys and the girls in episode 1 is so telling. It is clear that the regular teachers are desperate for the girls to win, with their war-ready pink cards. Remember that these same teachers usually teach the boys too - so why should they be so clearly, so passionately, on the side of the girls? You have the "problem with boys" right there if you wish to see it. And that girl who comes out in the debate with the perfectly grammatical statement: "My first point is that you need a good gender balance in the classroom. If not, children will become too competitive". Aargh! That old feminist clap-trap about being "competitive", for which read any environment which suits boys. The teacher couldn't have put these words into the child's mouth, by any chance? The truth, of course, is that boys need to be taken out of an environment which suppresses their natural abilities, including competitiveness. The phrase "gender balance" is void of meaning. The sexes are different and placing both in the same environment means that one side or the other must be square pegs in round holes. After loosing the debate, one clearly disappointed boy comments (heartbreakingly), "I wasn't really disappointed. It's not different from life in general, because I'm only loosing at things anyway". Now that is the most dreadful condemnation of what our society has done to boys.
I do wonder whether this sense of hopelessness which seems to be instilled in boys from the earliest age is the cause of the disengagement and lack of ambition of many men later in life. Worse, I wonder whether this underdog psychological state is deliberately induced.