The ‘Problem’ With Boys

At three different meetings I have attended in the last month the ‘problem’ of boys in education has been discussed. As you might imagine, running a Boys’ school as I do, that caused me some pause for thought. The burden of each discussion (none actually at my own school) was the under-performance of boys compared to girls, more bullying incidents amongst boys than girls and lower aspirations for boys than girls. Can it really be so depressing an outlook for the young men in our schools today?

I certainly hope not, yet there are some issues for society to address that might then be reflected in how we deal with things in schools. For example, might it be that, despite our best intentions, the educational narrative for several years now has been to tell girls about all the things they can do and all the choices they have, whilst more often than not telling boys what they cannot do. The girls agenda is about choice, opportunity û as one author puts it ôeither raising a family, or raising money, or a combination of both either at once or over time.ö What is the agenda for boys?

And what does the social narrative look like for young men. We worry about them being dangerous in groups, being predators, there are few if any role models of decent young men that then donÆt turn out to be flawed. If those in school wish to look around for someone they would like to be like, they might look a long time. Furthermore, there wonÆt be a big scheme to bring male role models into schools to inspire. Is #MeToo, important though it is, for boys actually an implicit #YouToo?

Now clearly, the work done to inspire, enable and free girls from decades (actually centuries) of flawed assumptions about their role in society, is excellent and important. It should and must continue. But an equally vibrant programme is needed for the boys. Their role has changed as well. Society does not need manly heroÆs in the way it did when Bonnie Tyler wanted them æfast, strong and fresh from the fight.Æ It may need more of the Greek concept of the deliberating man as opposed to the warrior. How to equip boys for that must be the urgent discussion.

About Philip Britton

Philip Britton is the Head of Foundation of Bolton School. He was brought up on Tyneside, took a first in physics at Oxford and did teacher training at Cambridge. He worked as physics teacher, Head of Physics and Deputy Head at Leeds Grammar School before moving to Bolton in 2008. In 2010 he was awarded an MBE for services to physics and is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics where he has been much involved in physics education, encouraging teachers to encourage the next generation of physicists. Follow at X: @Philip_Britton | View X/Twitter archive | Listen at: Exploring Bolton School | Social Mobility, Leadership & Future School Thinking | Strategic School Leadership with Philip Britton | Strategic School Leadership with Philip Britton