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Popular boys get lads into learning

The lad culture which makes boys think it is uncool to learn can be tackled by targeting popular pupils, government-funded research suggests.

Researchers at Cambridge university have spent four years examining a range of approaches used at schools which have successfully raised boys'


One of the most effective methods involves teachers spotting pupil leaders or image-makers "whose physical presence, manner and behaviour exerted considerable power and influence within the peer group".

"Key leaders are not always hostile, challenging and continually set on conflict, but are seen by the school as needing encouragement and support to remain on track," the report said.

These leaders were divided into three categories: Rebels, who broke the rules but were intelligent; Clowns, immature boys who incited poor behaviour; and Stars, who were successful, yet not seen as swots.

A secondary school in the north-west of England, which was not named, has been running a scheme where teachers meet to identify up to a dozen pupil leaders in each year group.

The leaders are then each assigned a "key befriender", a teacher who regularly meets them for informal chats.

The scheme differs from standard mentoring schemes because it aims to have a knock-on effect of improving the behaviour of the pupil's classmates. The leaders are not told why they receive the extra attention.

Exam data from the school indicated that boys' grades had soared since 1998 when it began piloting the approach, with the proportion gaining at least five A* to C grades at GCSE rising from 48 to 85 per cent.

Neighbouring schools which copied the programme also noted improved students' attitudes.

The befriender scheme is one of several "socio-cultural" approaches to raising boys' achievement which the researchers said helped tackle the notion that it is not masculine to work.

Other methods included paired reading projects where Year 3 and Year 5 boys worked together. The researchers said there was some evidence that single-sex classes made boys and girls feel more at ease in lessons and improved their attainment.

However, they added: "Single-sex classes are not a panacea. In some schools, boys-only classes have become very challenging to teach, or stereotyping of expectation has established a macho regime which has alienated some boys."

"Raising boys' achievement" is at

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