Is it different for boys?

There is much talk of a boy crisis and the redundant male,
A quick search on google  pulls out these statements.
Boys are underachieving
Boys need to understand the purpose of what they are doing
Boys have an anti-school attitude and a laddish culture
Boys like competition
There are not enough role model male teachers for boys
Boys don’t like reading
Teachers have lower expectations of boys work
Boys need more active learning styles
Boys overestimate their own ability
Boys are more disruptive than girls
Boys are more likely to have autistic spectrum disorders
Boys suffer from more mental health issues

Generalisations can lead to stereotyping at best unhelpful and often conceal more than they reveal. This is not a simplistic problem and there is a lot of evidence that the more gender considerations are applied , the worse things get.

The first thing that has to be said is that boys are not a homogeneous group with a single set of issues. What we really need to look for is which boys have the problem and ensure that by improving the performance of boys we don’t adversely affect the performance of girls or those boys who are already performing well.

As a parent with a daughter and three sons my feeling is that my boys show a far greater difference between each other than the gender differences they have with their sister. They act in certain ways because of who they are rather than because they are boys.

All of the statements have a degree of truth if we add some in front of the word boys. Many boys show none of these traits and are very successful. On leaving school the gender inequality in boardrooms is still massively weighted towards males. A mere 4.6% of the CEOs of the Fortune 1000 companies are female. here

Let’s look at these points one at a time

Boys are underachieving

IQs have been increasing at about 3 points every 10 years but whether our kids are any smarter is not so clear as outlined here 

The performance of boys and girls has improved on a yearly basis. However whether this is a real improvement or more to do with the way assessments are carried out again is not entirely clear. What is without doubt that on average boys are not improving at the same rate as girls. Certain groups of boys are faring far worse than the average boy.

Reports such as the ones below outline what researchers believe is happening. Though there seem to be few acknowledged truths.

Too Cool for School here

Raising Boys Achievement here

its a Global problem UNICEF report here

Boys need to understand the purpose of what they are doing

There is research that supports this West (2005) as a generalisation boys prefer to have writing tasks with a clear purpose rather than writing for the sake of it.
There is also sometimes a mismatch between the teachers perception and the boys, with teachers thinking boys taking notes are engaged, the boys thinking that they are wasting their time.

I have found that all students prefer to clearly understand the point of what they are doing. Girls often seem to have a greater motivation to please the teacher – Something I have found when talking to teachers of high achieving girls is that they can be desperate to get the right answer and do the right thing.


Boys have an anti-school attitude and a laddish culture

Many boys manage to be one if the lads and still be successful, but for others they need to conform to their peers. If the system is perceived to have little value to them many boys preserve their sense of self worth by fighting it. It is far easier to fit into an cultural norms than it is to fight it. I taught at a school with a very deeply embedded anti – learning culture that held most students back. The ones who came through it well have turned into some of the finest young men and women I know with massive resilience and the ability to make things happen.

There was some interesting research in the 70s by Paul Willis which still has some relevance today. He studied a group of 12 working-class boys during their last year and a half in school and their first few months at work. He conducted a series of interviews and observations within a school, with the aim of discovering why ‘working class kids get working class jobs’.

He identified two groups of pupils as the ‘lads’ and the ‘ear ‘oles’.

The ‘lads’ were working class boys who expressed a negative attitude to academic work and also showed strongly racist and sexist attitudes. They tried to drink and smoke to become part of a more adult world and thought that manual work, such as building, was far more important to mental work. Seeing as society is run by capitalism, the lads recognised that there was no such thing as an equal opportunity for them, as no matter how hard they tried, they would still remain far less successful than middle class students. This links to the Marxist idea that there is no meritocracy in a capitalist society.

One of the main motivations for the lad’s rejecting their education would be the ear’oles.

The ear’oles were seen as school conformists by the lads and were the complete opposite to them when it came to academic progress. Ear ‘oles were looked down on by the lads as they were the children who followed the school rules, respected their teachers, and commited to their education. Lads did not just dislike ear’oles, they felt they had superiority over them. This was because the lads believed that the ear’oles were wasting their time at school by not being able to have fun or be independent.

Willis found a number of similarities between the attitudes and behaviour developed by the lads in school and those on a shop floor at work. Having a laugh was important in both situations as a means of dealing with boredom, authority and repetitiveness.

The lads rejected school and mentally prepared themselves for a place in the workforce invariably at manual level. They learned to put up with boredom, had a laugh and to basically accepted the labour of low-skill and low-pay jobs.

Society has changed massively since the 70s but there are certainly elements I have taught within schools of boys looking for entertainment and seeing schools as an environment of hostile authority and meaningless work demands.
Boys like competition

In a study on running here  It was found that competition improved the performance of the boys, but made no real difference to girls

The study builds upon earlier work by the authors and Muriel Niederle of Stanford University, which also showed that competition improves the performance of males more than females, creating a gender gap which does not exist in non-competitive environments.

The earlier study tested responses to a mental rather than physical task. In a lab experiment, men and women were asked to solve simple maze problems on a computer, and were paid according to different criteria. The average age of the participants was twenty-three years old.

When subjects were paid for individual performance, there was no significant gender difference in the results. When subjects were paid on a competitive basis, and only the subject with the best outcome was paid, the performance of the male subjects increased significantly, while that of the female subjects remained constant.

Other studies have found clear losers in a competitive culture and a tendency to give up if success wasn’t instant. Competition should be used carefully.
There are not enough role model male teachers for boys

With a changing workforce that values traditional male strengths less and communication and literacy there are some boys who can’t see a future, nor the point of education.

Male role models are still mainly sports stars and few intellectual pursuits are seen as being cool. Male teachers can show that learning can be a masculine activity. However Male teachers can sometimes reinforce a macho or ‘laddish’ culture and the learning climate can often be characterised by confrontation.

We all know teachers with the traits shown by Brian Glover


There has  been a huge reduction in the number of male teachers from 40% in the 80s to around 25% today . Only 13% of primary teachers being male and a rapid decline in the number of male teachers in secondary school. Some research has found that boys prefer male teachers as they ‘get them’ but other research has found that the gender makes no difference, what matters is the pedagogical approaches and respectful relationships.
What is certain is that we don’t necessarily need more unthinking male teachers, we need more male teachers who model a caring, thoughtful masculinity.

Boys don’t like reading

There is a wealth of research on this that indicates that boys are less inclined to read than girls globally. That may be in part that the type of reading and the types of books are not what many boys find interesting.

The literacy trust report has some recommendations – full report here


Boys’ underachievement in reading is a significant concern for schools across the country. In a National Literacy Trust survey, 76% of UK schools said boys in their school did not do as well in reading as girls. 82% of schools have developed their own strategies to tackle this.
 The issue is deep-seated. Test results consistently show this is
a long-term and international trend. Boys’ attitudes towards reading and writing, the amount of time they spend reading and their achievement in literacy are all poorer than those of girls.
 Boys’ underachievement in literacy is not inevitable. It is not simply a result of biological differences; the majority of boys achieve in literacy and are fluent readers.
 The Boys’ Reading Commission has found that boys’ underachievement in reading is associated with the interplay of three factors:
– The home and family environment, where girls are more likely to be bought books and taken to the library, and where mothers are more likely to support and role model reading;
– The school environment, where teachers may have a limited knowledge of contemporary and attractive texts for boys and where boys may not be given the opportunity to develop their identity as a reader through experiencing reading for enjoyment;

– Male gender identities which do not value learning and reading as a mark of success.

The Commission’s Recommendations
1. Schools should have access to an evidence framework to inform effective practice in supporting boys’ reading.
2. Every child should be supported by their school in developing as a reader. Crucially, schools must promote reading for enjoyment and involve parents (overtly fathers) in their reading strategies.
3. Every teacher should have an up-to-date knowledge of reading materials that will appeal to disengaged boys.
4. Parents need access to information on how successful schools are in supporting boys’ literacy.
5. Libraries should target children (particularly boys) who are least likely to be supported in their reading at home.
6. Social marketing and behavioural insight need to be deployed to encourage parents to support the literacy of their children – especially boys.
7. Every boy should have weekly support from a male reading role model.
8. Parenting initiatives must specifically support literacy and fathers.
9. A cross-Government approach to literacy needs to be developed and coordinated.

One of the key issues may well be how reading fits into their idea of masculinity, if reading is considered  feminine then any measure other than male role models is doomed to fail. . This is explored in depth here 

Pic of masculinity
Teachers have lower expectations of boys work

Some studies have found that teachers underestimate boys abilities due to the disorganised nature and poor presentation of work, compounded by weak literacy skills.
There are some great blogs on this by hunting English
Boys need more active learning styles

There was a push to give boys lots of kinaesthetic activities, but there is little, if any, evidence that it improved their performance. However it would be interesting to see if this reduced behavioural issues.
Making a generalisation that I warned about at the start as a science teacher I found that in a practical if boys didn’t know what to do many would just make it up themselves whereas most girls would ask (or do nothing)
Many boys would like to try a task without advice where girls would often prefer to know exactly what to do.


Boys overestimate their own ability

There is evidence for this particularly in maths.
Boys also have a tendency to put success down to luck and being clever, rather than effort.

However Westerners have a tendency to overestimate their ability (unlike eastern cultures ) with something called the superiority illusion full article here

Since psychological studies first began, people have given themselves top marks for most positive traits. While most people do well at assessing others, they are wildly positive about their own abilities, A researcher David Dunning said.

That’s because we realize the external traits and circumstances that guide other people’s actions, “but when it comes to us, we think it’s all about our intention, our effort, our desire, our agency — we think we sort of float above all these kinds of constraints,”

In studies, most people overestimate their IQ. For instance, in a classic 1977 study, 94 percent of professors rated themselves above average relative to their peers. In another study, 32 percent of the employees of a software company said they performed better than 19 out of 20 of their colleagues. And Dunning has found that people overestimate how charitable they’ll be in future donation drives, but accurately guess their peers’ donations.

Why the dumb think they are smart

In 1999, Justin Kruger and David Dunning, from Cornell University, New York, tested whether people who lack the skills or abilities for something are also more likely to lack awareness of their lack of ability. At the start of their research paper they cite a Pittsburgh bank robber called McArthur Wheeler as an example, who was arrested in 1995 shortly after robbing two banks in broad daylight without wearing a mask or any other kind of disguise. When police showed him the security camera footage, he protested “But I wore the juice”. The hapless criminal believed that if you rubbed your face with lemon juice you would be invisible to security cameras.

Why the not funny think they are funny !

Kruger and Dunning were interested in testing another kind of laughing matter. They asked professional comedians to rate 30 jokes for funniness. Then, 65 undergraduates were asked to rate the jokes too, and then ranked according to how well their judgements matched those of the professionals. They were also asked how well they thought they had done compared to the average person.

As you might expect, most people thought their ability to tell what was funny was above average. The results were, however, most interesting when split according to how well participants performed. Those slightly above average in their ability to rate jokes were highly accurate in their self-assessment, while those who actually did the best tended to think they were only slightly above average. Participants who were least able to judge what was funny (at least according to the professional comics) were also least able to accurately assess their own ability.
Boys are more disruptive than girls

Whatever the truth of this and some argue that schools are set up as havens for girls and prisons for boys the statistics show that boys are nearly 4 times as likely to be excluded than girls according to 2012 findings. here

Extract below

Despite our claims of being an equal society that treats children on their merits, some groups of children are far more likely to be excluded from school than others. These are children who are vulnerable because of who they are, and because of the challenges already present in their lives. They are:
• boys rather than girls;
• children with some types of special needs;
children from some specific ethnic backgrounds, and
• the children of the poor.

To illustrate the impacts on individual children, it is useful to imagine two hypothetical young English people: Jack and Jill. They are the same age, and attend the same school. They have the same rights under the Human Rights Act, and the UNCRC.
• Jack has SEN, assessed at School Action Plus. He is of Black Caribbean background, and lives in a low-income household. He receives free school meals.

  • Jill does not have SEN, is from a White British background, and lives in a more affluent household.

The DfE’s analysis of the data shows Jack is 168 times more likely than Jill to be permanently excluded from school before the age of 16, and 41 times more likely than she is to be excluded for a fixed term. Truly frightening statistics.

Many teachers have a tendency to discipline boys publicly and girls privately and this can cause resentment and inflame tensions.

Boys are more likely to have autistic spectrum disorders

This is indeed true but with a proviso – taken from  here
Autism (including Asperger syndrome) appears to be more common among boys than girls. This could be because of genetic differences between the sexes, or that the criteria used to diagnose autism are based on the characteristics of male behaviour. However, our understanding is far from complete, and this will remain the case until we know more about the causes of autism.

Why are boys far more likely to develop autism than girls?
There is strong evidence to suggest that there are more boys with ASDs (autism spectrum disorders) than girls. Brugha (2009) surveyed adults living in households throughout England, and found that 1.8% of males surveyed had an ASD, compared to 0.2% of females.

In epidemiological research Wing (1981) found that among people with high-functioning autism or Asperger syndrome there were as many as fifteen times as many males as females. On the other hand, when she looked at people with learning difficulties as well as autism the ratio of boys to girls was closer to 2:1. This would suggest that, while females are less likely to develop autism, when they do they are more severely impaired.

It is difficult to explain why the sexes should be affected differently by autism

Attwood (2000), Ehlers and Gillberg (1993) and Wing (1981) have all speculated that many girls with Asperger syndrome are never referred for diagnosis, and so are simply missing from statistics. This might be because the diagnostic criteria for Asperger syndrome are based on the behavioural characteristics of boys, who are often more noticeably “different” or disruptive than girls with the same underlying deficits. Girls with Asperger syndrome may be better at masking their difficulties in order to fit in with their peers, and in general have a more even profile of social skills. Gould and Ashton-Smith (2011) say that because females with ASDs may present differently from males, diagnostic questions should be altered to identify some females with ASDs who might otherwise be missed.

Another hypothesis (Wing 1981) is based on evidence that, in the general population, females have better verbal skills, while males excel in visuo-spatial tasks. There may be a neurological basis for this, so that autism can be interpreted as exaggeration of “normal” sex differences. But environmental and social factors may also play a part in sex differences in ability, which means that no direct analogy can be drawn between the poorer verbal skills of boys and the higher incidence of autism in males.

A couple of useful videos


And this truly amazing video


Boys suffer from more mental health issues

Aged 5-10 boys are almost twice as likely as girls to suffer from mental health problems (10.4% vs 5.9%) but in teenage years this gap narrows (12.8% vs 9.7%) the perception of boys can be that they are tougher than they appear.
Many boys lack the informal support networks that girls have.
Boy culture is often one where mocking is the main form of interaction and compliments rarely are given. If you have a problem you are on your own.

There is an alarming tendency of boys retreating into bedrooms and eschewing social contact. These are typified by the hikikomori in Japan here

Video games addiction is also massively more prevalent amongst boys than girls. The reasons are complex but should be seen as their solution to a problem, rather than the problem itself.
What is clear is that there are no simple solutions. High performing schools with little gender gap have not got in place ‘boy friendly’ curriculums or learning styles. What we need to do about some of our underachieving boys is still not clear, what is obvious is that stereotyping and quick fix solutions won’t make a positive difference.

An interesting read is the Gender and. Education Mythbusters here 

This is simply a draft and Id like to add any more information and blogs to it so please add links in the comments section


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