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Evaluation article: Know your strengths Evaluation article: Developing an ethos of high expectation Achieving an ‘Outstanding’ Grade: Focused on Excellence Evaluation article: HR and the successful school: A case study Evaluation article: Leading the way to outstanding learner progress Evaluation article: Attainment and progress: The Rochford Review Evaluation article: How to create a leadership team that drives school improvement Evaluation article: Prioritising the budget for school improvement Evaluation article: Transforming a failing school Evaluation article: Evaluating alternative and specially resourced provision Evaluation article: Taking a school-wide approach to mental health and wellbeing Evaluation article: The latest developments in education - January 2016 Evaluation article: Managing uncertainty Evaluation article: Pupil voice as an evaluation technique Evaluation article: The latest developments in education - September 2016 Evaluation article: Deconstructing Ofsted: Reflection after inspection Evaluation article: MAT expansion: Don’t let school improvement become a casualty Evaluation article: Ten rules for outstanding leaders Evaluation article: The governing body as a critical friend Evaluation article: Developing an ethos of high expectations Evaluation article: The exam post-mortem Evaluation article: Safeguarding: Everyone’s responsibility Evaluation article: How do inspectors make the judgement about overall effectiveness? The Ofsted model Evaluation article: Effective leadership builds effective teams Evaluation article: Baseline assessment and SEND Evaluation article: Making performance management count in school improvement Evaluation article: Joining or setting up a multi-academy trust Evaluation article: Case study from Carlton Bolling College: Ensuring high-quality governance Evaluation article: Using pupil voice to support school evaluation Evaluation article: What are the signs of a good school improvement service adviser? Evaluation article: Headteachers’ appraisal Evaluation article: Making CPD work harder Evaluation article: Using the Framework for governance Evaluation article: Interpreting the inspection dashboard Evaluation article: The government's Prevent guidance Evaluation article: Improving provision for the most able Evaluation article: Personal development, behaviour and welfare Evaluation article: Is there a mental health crisis in our schools? Evaluation article: Evaluating the effectiveness of assessment Evaluation article: Raising boys’ achievement Evaluation article: National standards of excellence for headteachers Evaluation article: Governors and the inspection interview Evaluation article: Monitoring and coaching through lesson observation Evaluation article: CPD: Less measurement and more development Evaluation article: Challenging 
the most able Evaluation article: Using the teachers’ standards as a framework for CPD and accountability Evaluation article: Managing behaviour outside the classroom Evaluation article: Managing pupils’ behaviour in lessons Evaluation article: Keeping Children Safe Statutory Guidance Evaluation article: Four steps to school improvement Evaluation article: Finding a way through the jungle: The essence of leadership Evaluation article: How to audit your whole-school literacy provision Evaluation article: Professional development: the growing case for evidence Evaluation article: Getting personal  with CPD Evaluation article: Making performance appraisal an objective and helpful process Evaluation article: Parent View — an update Evaluation article: Raising pupil achievement through parental engagement: a practical approach Evaluation article: Effective parental engagement

Evaluation article: Know your strengths

Can you make inspection an enriching learning process that is actually good for your school? Heather Clements of Best Practice Network offers some advice. 

Evaluation article: Developing an ethos of high expectation

In this article, Steve Burnage shares some practical strategies to enable school leaders to develop an ethos of high expectation in their schools. 

Achieving an ‘Outstanding’ Grade: Focused on Excellence

Tony Powell outlines a step-by-step approach to support schools in achieving the accolade of ‘outstanding’ as defined by Ofsted.

Evaluation article: HR and the successful school: A case study

Adrian Kneeshaw, Headteacher of Carlton Bolling College, gives a personal viewpoint of the benefits of bringing in the experts.

Evaluation article: Leading the way to outstanding learner progress

Steve Burnage discusses engaging with good practice in the leadership of teaching and learning.

Evaluation article: Attainment and progress: The Rochford Review

Tony Powell reports on the findings of the final Rochford Review.

Evaluation article: How to create a leadership team that drives school improvement

A high-performing leadership team is at the centre of any school improvement mission. But how do you go about creating an excellent SLT? Colin McLean of Best Practice Network asks…

Evaluation article: Prioritising the budget for school improvement

Adrian Kneeshaw of Carlton Bolling school gives advice on how to focus school spending on improvement planning.

Evaluation article: Transforming a failing school

Matt Bromley offers some advice on turning around an underperforming school in a short space of time while laying down the foundations for sustainable improvement.

Evaluation article: Evaluating alternative and specially resourced provision

Tony Powell explains how inspectors gather evidence and make judgements on the quality of alternative and specially resourced provision.

Evaluation article: Taking a school-wide approach to mental health and wellbeing

With concerns about mental health rising, what can schools do to help their pupils? Suzanne O’Connell outlines the advice available from the National Children’s Bureau and how it might be…

Evaluation article: The latest developments in education - January 2016

Suzanne O’Connell provides a look at what’s currently being discussed, debated and determined in the world of education.

Evaluation article: Managing uncertainty

If you are struggling with a sense of uncertainty, be reassured: you are not alone. 2016 has been a year of upheaval, with the promise of big changes on the…

Evaluation article: Pupil voice as an evaluation technique

Tony Powell provides guidance on how to use discussion with pupils as a tool for self-evaluation.

Evaluation article: The latest developments in education - September 2016

Suzanne O’Connell provides a look at what’s currently being discussed, debated and determined in the world of education.

Evaluation article: Deconstructing Ofsted: Reflection after inspection

Tony Powell looks at how to use the feedback from your inspection in school improvement planning.

Evaluation article: MAT expansion: Don’t let school improvement become a casualty

How can an expanding multi-academy trust ensure that school improvement doesn’t become a casualty of change? Colin McLean of Best Practice Network looks at the issue and offers some guidance.

Evaluation article: Ten rules for outstanding leaders

Adrian Kneeshaw looks at how leadership is important to the success of the school, and how to lead effectively.

Evaluation article: The governing body as a critical friend

In his second article on the headteacher and governor relationship, Tony Powell defines what is meant by a ‘critical friend’.

Evaluation article: Developing an ethos of high expectations

Steve Burnage shares some practical strategies to enable school leaders to develop an ethos of high expectations in their schools.

Evaluation article: The exam post-mortem

Matt Bromley considers how schools can learn from exam performance data and build this into school improvement.

Evaluation article: Safeguarding: Everyone’s responsibility

With new safeguarding guidance released, it’s time to check your arrangements and update your staff.

Evaluation article: How do inspectors make the judgement about overall effectiveness? The Ofsted model

This article outlines the Ofsted methodology for determining whether a school is ‘outstanding’, ‘good’, ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’.

Evaluation article: Effective leadership builds effective teams

Steve Burnage offers advice on motivating staff, getting the best from them and building effective teams.

Evaluation article: Baseline assessment and SEND

Suzanne O’Connell looks at a report on baseline assessment in primary schools and it’s affect on identifying children with SEND.

Evaluation article: Making performance management count in school improvement

What do you need to do to make performance management a watertight process that makes a real contribution to school improvement? Keith Wright has some suggestions.

Evaluation article: Joining or setting up a multi-academy trust

Tony Stephens, of the Co-operative Academies Trust, looks at what is the best type of multi-academy trust for a school to join or establish.

Evaluation article: Case study from Carlton Bolling College: Ensuring high-quality governance

Adrian Kneeshaw, Headteacher of Carlton Bolling, gives a personal take on renewing a failing governing body having designed and built one from scratch.

Evaluation article: Using pupil voice to support school evaluation

David Birch explains how capturing the views of students can sharpen school self-evaluation and have a positive impact on your school improvement strategies.

Evaluation article: What are the signs of a good school improvement service adviser?

Frank Norris offers advice on how to choose the most appropriate school improvement partner to work with your school.

Evaluation article: Headteachers’ appraisal

David Birch outlines best practice in the management of the headteacher appraisal process and offers advice for headteachers on how to make the most of appraisal in their own professional development.

Evaluation article: Making CPD work harder

Professional development is a crucial factor in school improvement and improving pupil outcomes, but it could work harder, says Keith Wright.

Evaluation article: Using the Framework for governance

Tony Powell looks at how the Framework for governance can be used to clarify the strategic direction of your school.

Evaluation article: Interpreting the inspection dashboard

There is a new inspection dashboard to go with Ofsted's new Common inspection framework. Tony Powell explains how it can be used.

Evaluation article: The government's Prevent guidance

Suzanne O'Connell considers the guidance available regarding Prevent and school leaders' responsibilities.

Evaluation article: Improving provision for the most able

Ofsted reports are making it clear. The DfE wants to see secondary schools challenging their most able students. In this article, Suzanne O’Connell summarises the criticisms and recommendations from ‘The…

Evaluation article: Personal development, behaviour and welfare

Tony Powell looks at the new key area ‘personal development, behaviour and welfare’ under the new Ofsted inspection framework.

Evaluation article: Is there a mental health crisis in our schools?

The mental health of children and young people is at the top of the agenda at the moment. Increased anxiety, self-harm and eating disorders are bringing some schools to crisis…

Evaluation article: Evaluating the effectiveness of assessment

Tony Powell interprets government guidance on assessment to help schools support self-evaluation.

Evaluation article: Raising boys’ achievement

John Viner looks at research into boys’ underachievement and reviews some successful strategies.

Evaluation article: National standards of excellence for headteachers

Tony Powell looks at the revised national standards for headteachers and how they should be used by schools.

Evaluation article: Governors and the inspection interview

Tony Powell discusses how to prepare governors in advance for an inspection interview.

Evaluation article: Monitoring and coaching through lesson observation

John Viner explores ways to develop a culture of continual improvement in teaching through lesson observation.

Evaluation article: CPD: Less measurement and more development

How can schools translate CPD into genuine improvement for staff? Keith Wright asked leaders to share their views, and discovered an emerging consensus about which approaches work best.

Evaluation article: Challenging 
the most able

Tony Powell looks at how to identify the most able pupils, and the key factors that enable the brightest pupils to achieve.

Evaluation article: Using the teachers’ standards as a framework for CPD and accountability

Tony Powell looks at how the teachers’ standards can be used to evaluate performance and support improvement.

Evaluation article: Managing behaviour outside the classroom

Since January 2014 there has been increased emphasis on the behaviour of pupils. In this article, Jim Donnelly offers advice on managing behaviour around the school.

Evaluation article: Managing pupils’ behaviour in lessons

David Birch offers advice on effective classroom management and argues that effective practice relies on a combination of the consistent application of agreed policy and the development of awareness and…

Evaluation article: Keeping Children Safe Statutory Guidance

This is statutory guidance, which means that schools and colleges (including academies and free schools) must have regard to it. It contains what schools should do and what they must…

Evaluation article: Four steps to school improvement

School improvement is a complex recipe that takes time to perfect. Keith Wright looks at some of the key barriers to school improvement and suggests strategies and systems to overcome…

Evaluation article: Finding a way through the jungle: The essence of leadership

Louise Wingrove gives practical advice on how to become a leader your team will want to follow.

Evaluation article: How to audit your whole-school literacy provision

Given that whole-school literacy is central to raising standards of achievement in schools and that it is a key focus for Ofsted, David Birch outlines some of the actions schools…

Evaluation article: Professional development: the growing case for evidence

Teachers are good at gathering evidence of pupil progress, but many find it difficult to do the same with regard to their own professional development.  Keith Wright looks at the…

Evaluation article: Getting personal with CPD

Less than a fifth of teachers in England’s schools think their continuing profession development (CPD) is any good, according to a recent survey. One of the keys to unlocking the…

Evaluation article: Making performance appraisal an objective and helpful process

Performance appraisal is crucial to school improvement, but many schools are still without a rigorous and transparent way of carrying it out, says Keith Wright. Here, he analyses the challenges…

Evaluation article: Parent View — an update

Jenny Townsend looks at the importance of Parent View in achieving an outstanding rating in inspection, and how comments from parents are used by Ofsted.

Evaluation article: Raising pupil achievement through parental engagement: a practical approach

Jenny Townsend explores how parental engagement can contribute to school improvement and in particular the role this can play in raising pupil achievement levels.

Evaluation article: Effective parental engagement

Ofsted’s Parent View means that parents have a direct influence on the decision to inspect. Jenny Townsend examines why this matters to schools.

Evaluation article: Raising boys’ achievement

Published: Thursday, 16 April 2015

John Viner looks at research into boys’ underachievement and reviews some successful strategies.

Summary

  • Academic underachievement is especially noticeable among poor white boys.
  • Underachievement affects behaviour, attendance and progress.
  • There are some recognisably successful strategies that schools can implement.
  • This article includes a case study and further information about relevant research.

It seems to be a fact of life that boys and girls make progress at different rates in different subjects. For years we have lived with the accepted generalisation that girls outperform boys in literacy and language whereas boys do rather better than girls in maths and science. This seems to be confirmed by countless RAISEonline reports, especially for primary schools, where the boys’ underachievement often becomes an area of focus. At Key Stage 3, girls appear to make accelerated progress across the board compared with boys, leading to an even wider gap at GCSE. Given the clearly identifiable gap between the relative achievement of white working-class pupils and other groups, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that white working-class boys present a particular challenge.

Defining the problem

A comprehensive four-year research project on boys’ performance was commissioned from the University of Cambridge by the then DES in 2000. The project reported in 2005 in Raising boys’ achievement. The introduction acknowledged that:

‘rather more boys than girls fail to achieve Level 4 in English national tests at the end of Key Stage 2; rather more boys than girls fail to achieve the 5 A*–C benchmark grades in GCSE examinations taken at 16+. These patterns of academic achievement are evident in most schools in England.’

It seems that little has changed since the report was published. The charity, Parity UK, published a summary of research in 2011 (Is action overdue on boys’ academic underachievement?) and noted that:

‘the gender gap continues (from the 1980s) to the present time and is observed throughout the various school-based assessment stages, starting at primary school (ages 5, 7 and 11 years), then at GCSE and A-level, and in the UK university population.’

This is not a uniquely British problem. There is a considerable body of evidence which suggests that this is a global issue. Parity cites an OECD study of higher education, which reported a sustained gender gap over time and over stages of education. In 2003 the journal Science published a large international study which found that even in mathematics, where conventional wisdom has it that boys do better than girls, the reverse was in fact true. However, teasingly, this study found that, in societies where equity was high, there was no major difference in the relative performance of boys and girls.

Perhaps this helps us to understand that this is a more complex issue than it first appears. Sitting behind the poor performance of boys is a whole social history and established culture of gender expectations. While providing no answers, this knowledge at least goes partway to explaining why this is a persistent theme. And social disadvantage seems to be a major factor. Owen Jones, basing his figures on a 2008 analysis, points out in Chavs – the demonization of the working class that, ‘only 15% of poor white boys and 20% of poor white girls leave state schools with basic skills in reading, writing and arithmetic. This is way behind middle-class children’.

Case study: John Viner’s experience as a head

It is one thing to re-state the problem; it is wholly different to address it. As the headteacher of a challenging coastal school with a high proportion of poor white families, I sat with my senior team and looked at the upcoming Year 4. This cohort contained a significant number of troublesome and frequently absent boys who were likely to undermine much of the work we had done to raise what had been very low standards. In an inspired moment, one of my deputies suggested we group the year by learning style. Pause for a sharp, disapproving intake of breath. However, we decided that, in the absence of any other plan, this might work. It was a £50K solution because we ended up employing two extra teachers, one each for Years 5 and 6. 

At the end of that year we gave pupils in Y4 and Y5 a conventional test of preferred learning styles and, in the new school year, reorganised them from three classes per year to four. One class comprised predominantly auditory learners, two classes were largely a mixture and one class was entirely made up of kinaesthetic learners. And, in both Y5 and Y6, these were all boys. Now, whatever view is taken of Gardner’s theories, and recognising that we had also reduced class sizes, the results were dramatic. Both classes were taught by outstanding teachers who tailored their teaching to meet the learning styles of their boys. By the end of the first half term attendance in these classes had improved dramatically while behaviour had shifted from disruptive to exemplary. If you wanted something done reliably, you asked these boys. And, above all, they made extraordinary progress, albeit from a low base. A by-product also happened to be remarkable achievement by both girls and boys in the auditory classes who, Ofsted noted, were working a year above expectations in maths.

What do studies tell us?

Grouping by learning style worked in the case study above, but is unlikely to be a panacea, especially given the present hostility to this theory. Nevertheless, it is one effective strategy noted in the 2005 Cambridge study. This research drew on an earlier piece of work by NFER (New ways of thinking about boys’ achievement) which proposed four main types of strategies or approaches:

  1. Organisational – whole-school approaches to building an ethos of equality. Remember, boys do better when equity is high.
  2. Individual – a mentoring and target-setting approach. Boys respond to the personal touch and someone to keep them focused.
  3. Pedagogic – focused on teaching and learning styles. Teachers ignore learning theory at their peril. Cognitive research has much to teach us.
  4. Socio-cultural – aiming to reduce the ‘laddish’ factor where it’s not cool to learn. Boys need to be able to break free from societal gender expectations.

The Cambridge study explores these approaches in much greater depth and may be helpful to colleagues wrestling with the problem of boys’ lack of achievement. The paper makes the point that:

‘In addressing issues of under-achievement it is crucial that intervention strategies address issues linked to students’ attitudes and image, their expectations and aspirations, tackled at the core. To be fully effective, these strategies must be developed systematically through time, and subsequently evaluated and refined in the light of experience. We have no evidence to suggest that short-term strategies are likely to impact positively upon students’ achievements in sustainable and ongoing ways.’

It adds an important caveat:

‘Finally, our research does not support the notion that there is a case for boy-friendly pedagogies. Pedagogies which appeal to and engage boys are equally girl-friendly. They characterise quality teaching, and as such are just as suitable and desirable for girls as for boys.’

It is probably time for another detailed academic exploration of boys’ underachievement, but these studies at least point us to some strategies, even if they are not complete solutions. Better to do something than nothing.

Further information

  • Younger, M. and Warrington, M. et al, Raising boys’ achievement, DfES, 2005
  • Briefing paper, Is action overdue on boys’ academic underachievement?, Parity UK, 2013, available at: http://bit.ly/ParityonBoys
  • Vincent-Lancrin, S. ‘The reversal of gender inequalities in higher education: An ongoing trend’, Higher Education to 2030, Vol. 1, Demography, OECD, 2008. For a summary see http://bit.ly/OECDGenderinHE
  • Jones, Owen, Chavs – the demonization of the working class, Verso, London, 2012
  • McLellan, Ros, New ways of thinking about boys’ achievement, NFER, 2003, available at: http://bit.ly/NFERBoys 

Toolkit

Use the following item to help you put the ideas in this article into practice:

About the author

John Viner has taught in both primary and secondary schools, with a long history of successful school leadership. He is now a full-time writer, inspector and adviser.

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