Boys show signs of success

9th March 2007 at 00:00
Comprehensive wins praise from Estyn for combating male underachievement

a lack of maturity, a slap-dash attitude to coursework and a dislike of Jane Austen all contribute to the underperformance of boys, according to head Alwyn Thomas.

But identifying his male pupils' "weak spots" has earned Bryntirion comprehensive in Bridgend to a pat on the back from inspectors.

In a report on gender, due out next spring, the inspection body Estyn will use the school as a model of good practice in bringing boys back to winning ways.

But one of Mr Thomas's main motivations is his prediction that boys will outweigh girls by as much as two-thirds in some of his classes in the near future.

"My own view is that GCSE coursework is a big stumbling block for boys," he said. "Girls tend to be more meticulous, whereas boys tend to hand in their first attempt. They then have to pull it back in the exams."

Assembly government figures show that boys' results in 2006 from key stage 1 up to A-level lagged behind girls. This is most apparent at GCSE, where there was an 11 per cent gap in the achievement of good grades and has been since 2002.

Senior staff at the school meet regularly to discuss ways to appeal to boys, fine-tuning lessons to appeal to both sexes' respective learning preferences. There is a focus on keeping up boys' interest in subjects and improving their results while not neglecting girls.

Since targeting boys, their attendance rates are now higher than girls', and they are achieving in subjects which they have traditionally found difficult, such as English. While girls often read classics such as Pride and Prejudice, boys focus on non-fiction.

Recent research has also helped the school's efforts. Dr Gemma Moss, an academic at the London university's Institute of Education, has found that boys at the lower end of reading attainment respond better to non-fiction.

"They often make a bee-line for pages with pictures on," she said.

Boys at the school are given short-term goals in lessons, delivered in short bursts to keep them focused. But some experiments with single-sex classes, a method favoured by Dr David Reynolds (TES Cymru, February 2), have proved inconclusive.

Ensuring that boys sit next to girls has made for less distraction, said Mr Thomas. But, despite the continued underperformance of boys, there is no overall strategy to improve their results.

The Assembly government leaves it up to schools to choose what methods, if any, to use to raise boys' attainment. Now it says it will base any change of policy on the new report.

Estyn's own research has found that some schools have had success from developing more vocational courses at 14-19, or more practical approaches in subjects such as science and maths.

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