The Big Question: are boys getting a worse deal than girls at school?

Each week, we speak to the people who count, people like you, and post their opinions on the big issues in the education world. Read it and comment to make it a lively and insightful debate.

This week’s question: are boys getting a worse deal than boys at school?

“Male and female are different. Equality means recognizing these differences, especially in very early childhood. Then helping both male and female to develop ‘roots to grow and wings and fly’” says Sue Palmer author of ’21st century boys’ and ‘Toxic childhood’

Teaching styles in schools don’t always reflect the differences, according to a recent study by Steven Proud, from Bristol University. It showed that boys fare better in English when they are fewer girls present in the classroom in both primary and secondary schools. The study suggests that one of the contributing factors could be that teaching styles are more geared towards girls in this subject.

For subjects such as maths and science the presence of girls tended to have a positive effect for both genders.

A recent Ofsted report showed that more needs to be done to engage boys in art as more girls study this at GCSE level and achieve higher grades than boys.

Are teaching styles for some subjects more geared towards girls? Has the curriculum been feminised?

Here are some thoughts from the education community:

“I am glad to see this debate because the subject that I have the most to do with, art, craft and design, just isn’t exciting boys at all. The March 2009 Ofsted report backs this up and the issue of creating a boy friendly curriculum needs to be faced by many art subject specialists. I also feel that across all subjects, there are more female teachers, which doesn’t help in avoiding the feminised curriculum. Boys deserve so much more and it is about time we gave them more opportunities and encouragement without excluding the girls. Continuing professional development opportunities should be created to support this. “
Susan M Coles, arts, creativity and educational consultant


“I think that schools generally suit both genders and there is far too much emphasis on gender stereotypes. Commercial marketing and nurture often separate the sexes. But if we worry too much about boys and work harder to suit them what will happen to the girls? Will they fall behind?
Jo Woodhead, assistant primary school headteacher


“The problem is that over the past two decades or so there has been the planned and driven feminisation of the curriculum at all levels. The drift away from challenge, risk and conflict has meant that much of the demands and problems that used to confront male pupils have been removed.

“I am not suggesting that teaching and curriculum content should be aggressive but that it should reflect the maturation styles of developing men and provide them with learning modes that they appreciate and respond to. Too much discussion and a “feely fingers” approach to learning do not present rigorous tasks to be confronted by young, developing male pupils.”
Dr Len Parkyn, senior teacher, special needs, tertiary sector