Women, step back and shut up

20th June 2008 at 01:00
They dominate schools to the detriment of teenage boys, says parenting expert. And mums spoil their sons, too
They dominate schools to the detriment of teenage boys, says parenting expert. And mums spoil their sons, too

Female teachers need to stop talking so much and at such a high pitch if they are to engage with boys in classes, a parenting expert claims.

Celia Lashlie, an education adviser and author from New Zealand, said women are important to boys' learning, but they need to learn from their male colleagues.

Women should make more use of silence - asking a question then giving boys time to think before answering - and non-verbal cues such as raised eyebrows. They also should talk at a lower pitch.

"Don't speak so much - just shut up," says Ms Lashlie, a self- described feminist. "I've been in classes with young female teachers, and by the end of the session my ears hurt."

In secondary schools just 40 per cent of classroom teachers are men; in primary schools, it's only 12 per cent. Ms Lashlie recommends heads "defeminise" the workforce by employing more men and dealing with teenage boys' fathers rather than their mothers.

Too often, she says, parents turn up for meetings with their son's teacher or headteacher, and the mother talks while the father is too scared to say a word. Some schools are already considering making fathers sign an admissions charter agreeing that they will be the first point of contact with the school.

Ms Lashlie, who is visiting schools in Britain next week, said boys need their fathers or other male role models to help them grow into "good men" - but instead they are coddled by mothers. "Women need to step back, and shut up," she says.

Her comments come as the Government campaigns to involve fathers more in children's learning. Beverley Hughes, the children's minister, urged heads to think about fathers, as some may be put off visiting schools because they see them as "women-centred places".

Ms Lashlie began her investigation into the influences on boys after being the first woman to be a warder in a New Zealand men's prison. Her book, He'll Be OK, has become a bestseller in Australia and New Zealand and is to be published in the UK next week.

It urges mothers and teachers to allow "boys to be boys". They will take risks, she says, but with the right male role models those risks will not land them in prison.

Mothers need to stop making their sons' school lunches and ironing their shirts. It is often because boys never learn to make their own decisions and face the consequences that they take risks with alcohol, drugs, sex and fast cars.

Ms Lashlie interviewed 180 classes at 25 boys' schools in New Zealand for the Good Man Project to discover how schools can help shape teenage boys' futures.

The lack of good male role-models contributes to Britain's problems with teenage suicide and knife violence, she says. Schools need to work with fathers, "to keep more of our boys alive".

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, said Ms Lashlie's proposals for schools were "a load of claptrap".

"It is disappointing that a woman has felt the need to pander to the views of a tiny group of men who present themselves as the oppressed minority," she said.

Becky Francis, professor of education at Roehampton University, said teachers - male or female - needed to help boys develop their communication skills, rather than playing to stereotypes of boys as incommunicative.

"In fact, the profound gender gap in literacy and communication suggests that boys have got a lot to learn from girls," she said.

What Celia says

It's not OK that women are interfering in this way ... running every aspect of their sons' existences.

Women teachers need to learn to use silence and non-verbal cues ... They should speak less and at a lower pitch.

Schools are significantly female environments, and much of what boys are being corrected for is just boys being boys.

I have been in classes with young female teachers and by the end of the session my ears hurt.

Celia Lashlie is author of 'He'll Be OK', pound;9.99, HarperCollins

Why not make dads a school's first point of contact?

Ibstock Place School in Roehampton, south-west London, already has plans to make fathers the main contact for teachers.

Adrian Johnson, head of pastoral care, said: "It sends a message to the boy that dad's interested in him - that he'll make time in his day to take a call from the school."

Celia Lashlie, the parenting expert who wants men to play a bigger role in boys' upbringing, is to speak at the 860-pupil co-educational independent school next week.

Dr Johnson agreed with her that women often play a bigger role than men in their children's education.

"Mothers tend to be the ones at home during the day, so if there is any issue at school they will jump on the phone and give us a call," he said. "I regularly ring fathers, but often it will go through to voicemail."

"You do get the feeling that the mother is looking out for her son, trying to ease him through difficulties."

Dr Johnson said he kept an eye out for boys lacking male role models, sometimes designating male teachers or sixth formers to support them.

In his previous jobs teaching at boys' and co-educational schools in England and Australia, he has known pupils who have died not long after leaving school, some in car crashes. He believes that with better family support, especially from a man, similar accidents might be avoided.

"Those who don't have that support can lack fulfilment," he said. "They can be risk-takers, at times with tragic consequences."

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