I have some good news and some bad news regarding boys’ education in the UK. The good news: much like in the United States, a gradual awareness of the issues is rising from the ground up. Some relatively middle-ranking academic officials are even acknowledging the problem.
Which is progress.
The bad news: the topmost education leaders are still clueless, dismissive, and in denial.
This is pretty much standard wherever you go: the people footing the bill and putting in double time to address and resolve the issues are those with the least resources to do so: lower education school districts, community colleges, and a few universities.
Meanwhile, those sitting on a mountain of taxpayer gold in government bureaucracies that direct education policy – those whose job it should be to spearhead such initiatives in the first place – do nothing but search for rationalizations as to why they should do absolutely nothing, if they acknowledge the problem at all.
In the United States, we would know this as the Department of Education. In the UK, it is called the Ministry for Education.
If you read books on boys’ education like Why Boys Fail and The War Against Boys, the authors will tell you that countries like the UK and Australia are roughly ten years ahead of the United States in addressing the educational decline of men and boys.
Today we will look at two articles in UK publications:
- The Telegraph: “Boys being left behind as university gender gap widens”
- The Daily Mail: “Boys slip in primary test results.”
First, the Telegraph article. Here’s the subheading:
“The number of girls seeking a university place this year is more than a third larger than that of boys, who university chiefs say are becoming “a disadvantaged group.”
Well, phrases like “becoming disadvantaged” shows that they are getting there, but it’s not spot on. A more accurate phrasing would be saying boys “have already become disadvantaged,” or that they have “been disadvantaged for decades but we’re just acknowledging it now,” and so forth.
But hey, if university leaders are acknowledging it, that’s still progress. It’s more than what we had before. It’s hard to not feel dismayed over the fact that we could have helped an entire generation of boys if education officials had the courage to publicly acknowledge the problem sooner, but indeed late is better than never.
The officials cited in the Telegraph article are pointing to the gender gap in higher ed enrollments to demonstrate the need to draw attention to boys’ issues. But here’s the thing: while enrollment gaps are indeed generally worrisome, the bigger area of concern is in the graduation gap, sometimes called the retention rate. This gap tends to be significantly bigger.
The article says:
In at least 20 institutions, there are twice as many female full-time undergraduates as males. The growing divide in further education follows a similar trend at school level, where girls now outperform boys in all age groups and subjects.
Many education officials dismiss the gap in boys’ educational achievement by claiming it is nothing more than an issue of race or economic class/income level (one of my own readers in the UK wrote an email to the Ministry of Education and received this exact response). This claim is false, of course, because the gap in boys’ education is pervasive across all income levels and across racial lines.
Government education officials should know this, of course. After all, they are the experts, and we pay them both to know and to care. But they don’t.
We may be thankful, however, that The Telegraph is helping in this regard by publishing correct information:
According to the Sutton Trust, an educational charity, young women from the most disadvantaged communities are “much more likely” to apply to university than young men.
So don’t be taken in by the nonsense that boys’ education issues are really just a manifestation of race/economic class issues, rather than an issue in and of itself. This is just standard far-left cultural Marxist politics talking rather than anything fact-based, let alone progressive and egalitarian in the real sense of those words.
Unfortunately, since the denial and stonewalling among education officials is politics-based, it is not amenable to reason or evidence. Thankfully, when reason and evidence fails, there are other methods.
And now let’s look at the Daily Mail article:
Boys fell further behind girls in reading, writing and mathematics at primary school this year, according to the latest test results. Just 51 per cent of 11-year-old boys in England reached the level expected of their age group in the three core subjects, compared with 63 per cent of girls.
This article takes aim at what I call the Standardized Testing Regime: the tendency of government agencies to push “teaching to the test.” What it doesn’t do is describe how this Regime harms boys, despite the fact that the article is supposed to be about boys.
See for yourself. This is the second half of the Daily Mail article in its entirety:
Assessments ‘damaging education’
Last month all six teachers’ unions united to demand a review of primary school tests. They said the regime of assessment for 11-year-olds was highly damaging to children’s education.
Many primary schools spend 70 per cent of their time just on English and maths, “teaching to the test”, the unions said. The Government has been caught in a row over whether the primary school test results accurately reflect improvements in standards since Labour came to power.
Academics at Durham University suggested that the improvements in results overstated the actual rise in primary school standards and the abilities of pupils.
The Government’s own Statistics Commission backed this research and warned ministers that they must not overstate the level of improvement in primary school standards by quoting the test figures.
But the Department for Education has refused to accept the findings. The Government is expected to miss its key targets for primary school test results next year.
Ministers have an almost impossible task of overcoming a 10 pre cent gap if they are to meet the 2006 target of 85 per cent of 11-year-olds making the grade in maths alone. There is also a target for 85 per cent of 11-year-olds to pass the English tests at the required level by 2006. This year, 79 per cent of pupils reached this level.
That’s the entire second half of the article. Notice that nowhere do they mention boys. The teachers’ unions are uniting to demand change, but not for boys. They are uniting because the “teach to the test” regime has tied their hands in the classroom and not allowed them as much flexibility as they would like.
There IS a problem with how the Standardized Testing Regime affects boys, but this article doesn’t say it. Richard Whitmire does, however, in his interview here (roughly 1 minute and 30 seconds in):
He calls it the “giant oops.” Roughly 20 years ago, education officials pushed more rigid tests down the grades in the name of college readiness. There are two problems with this practice.
The first problem is emblematic of a mentality among numerous adults who – quite frankly – have forgotten what it was like to be a kid and no longer try to put themselves in their shoes. Primary education is not for rigid testing. It is a place to teach children a curious wonder of the world, and to love the educational environment for this reason.
The second problem is that boys and girls are hard-wired to develop different skills at different times. Boys tend to develop math skills earlier, while girls tend to develop verbal skills earlier. Contrary to pervasive (yet delusional) Feminist politics, acknowledging this is not “advocating sexist stereotypes,” although it is important to acknowledge the implications of stereotypes in other areas.
Reality: the male and female brains are physically different, particularly in areas that process these cognitive skills. It’s called science.
In making the decision to push more rigid tests down the education pipeline, officials forgot to ask the question “what is developmentally appropriate [those are education buzzwords that are good to know] for students according to their distinctive needs as boys and girls?”
At the time (and still today), most education officials were already catering to girls’ developmental needs while simultaneously maintaining a blind spot to boys’. Why? Because most of them were either obsessed with or afraid of Feminist politics. Thus girls received the attention they needed and curricula and testing suited to them.
Boys did not. They were effectively left out in the cold, where they have been for thirty years, and largely still remain.
Thankfully, we are now starting to acknowledge the problem. We aren’t all there yet, and we are still far away from developing a relative consensus on the solutions. But acknowledging a problem exists is the first step to solving it.