How to boost boys at GCSE? Ditch 'boy-friendly' approaches

We need higher expectations of boys at GCSE and A-Level, argue teachers Matt Pinkett and Mark Roberts on this week's English podcast

Jamie Thom


There’s no doubt that there is an issue with boys in our schools.

When the exam results arrive in August, we will likely be faced with another round of headlines about girls outperforming boys in nearly every subject.

It’s an issue that teachers and leaders across the country are focused on, but are we directing our efforts in the best ways?

Quick read: Book review: Boys Don’t Try? Rethinking masculinity in schools

Quick listen: How to teach a child a lesson for life

Want to know more? Gender stereotyping should have no place in schools

On this month’s English Teaching podcast, we speak to Matt Pinkett and Mark Roberts, who explore the “cycle of male underperformance” in their new book Boys Don’t Try? Rethinking Masculinity in Schools.

The pair, both of whom are English teachers, explore the research around the subject and look at what schools could be doing differently.


They highlight the trouble with “boy-friendly” approaches - such as football-focused lessons - that have been adopted in recent times, but proven to be unsuccessful by the research.

“These approaches have been disastrous,” Roberts says. “They may seem common sense but they are misguided and counterproductive.”

What these do, he continues, is treat male students as “a homogenous group who all have the same interests” and “reinforce stereotypical masculine attitudes that makes boys apathetic”.

The pair admit to making these same mistakes in their own teaching careers, in part because “there is no training on gender bias and expectations.”

Unconscious bias

Instead of falling into the trap of stereotyping our male students, they say, it’s imperative that we become more aware of our unconscious biases around gender.

Then we will be able to change our perceptions and increase our expectations of what boys can achieve. In doing so, we can find opportunities for boys to “taste academic success”, helping to change the ethos and culture of our classrooms.

Pushing for greater achievement has to be also balanced with listening for what Pinkett describes as the “male language of mental health”.  

He outlines how we can improve relationships with male students, modelling emotional openness and encouraging honesty about their feelings.

The pair also give practical tips on how to manage the behaviour of especially challenging male students, and increase effort in lessons from those who may be disengaged.

Listen for more…

You can listen via your podcast platform or Spotify – just type in "Tes - The education podcast". You can also listen via the player below:

Jamie Thom is an English teacher at Cramlington Learning Village. His book A Quiet Education will be published in November 2019.
He tweets @teachgratitude1

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