Educational (under)achievements of school boys


In 2012, Harland and McCready, in collaboration with Youth Action Northern Ireland, published the findings of a five-year long study in a report entitled ‘Taking Boys seriously – A longitudinal study of adolescent male school-life experiences in Northern Ireland’. In response to concerns about boys’ educational underachievement and wider concerns about boys’ health and well-being, the Centre for Young Men’s Studies at the University of Ulster (funded by the Department of Education and the Department of Justice) carried out a long-term study working directly with boys in the classroom through a creative and mixed methodology underpinned by an ethos of ‘Taking Boys Seriously.’

“The reader will sense the energy, aspirations and at times the despair of these boys as they wrestled with a complex range of social, physical, psychological, emotional and transitional issues that impacted upon them at different stages of their development… …boys felt they were often treated with increasing levels of distrust and suspicion by adults and found it difficult to remove negative labels that had been attached to them when they were younger.” 

The study followed 378 male pupils from nine post-primary schools, observing their thoughts and experiences on a yearly basis over a five-year period (between years 8 and 12).

The results suggested that a wide and complex range of socio-economic issues such as poverty,class, ethnicity, social disadvantage, a declining industrial base and less demand for traditional male jobs combined to negatively impact boys’ educational achievements. Among various recommendations and acknowledgement that addressing the plethora of issues affecting boys in education would not be easy, suggestions included further research into gender-specific teaching, encouraging more males into teaching and training to support teachers in understanding the changing needs of adolescent boys.

Additionally, in January 2013, Christopher Cornwell from the University of Georgia in collaboration with Jessica Van Parys at Columbia analysed at a on over 5800 students from kindergarten to fifth grade. They analysed early-emerging gender differences in academic underachievement using both (objective) test scores and (subjective) teacher assessments. Their results showed that gender differences in teacher grades start early and consistently favour girls and that boys grades from teachers fall below where their test scores would predict. Even the boys who performed equally as well on reading, math and science tests were nevertheless graded less favourably by their teachers and there was evidence of a grade ‘bonus’ for white boys with test scores and behaviour like their girl counterparts. The authors attribute this discrepancy to how well each child was engaged in the classroom.

Obaro E
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About the author

Obaro E

In my 20s, I was a contrarian. While studying for my PhD in neuroscience, I learned to defend opinions and ideas based on empirical evidence. And on social media I would make mildly controversial arguments for entertainment and all my friends would laugh, join in, debate and have fun and we would all 'shake hands' afterwards and get on with our lives... that is until around 2012 when I argued against feminism...

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