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Testing times in the boy zone

There's not too much kudos, academically, in being a chap in school nowadays.

Your fellows, in former times, might well have been preparing to catch and skin their first mammoth. But if you are a young lad in the 21st century, picking your way through key stage this and key stage that - or not, as the case may be - you are labelled "dense".

Boys lag behind girls at every stage in education. This is not all bad news, of course. Back in the 1980s and earlier, large numbers of girls were dropping out of education at the minimum school-leaving age, a huge waste of talent.

Much credit is due to schools and educators for this change in our history.

Schemes such as WISE (Women into Science and Engineering) and GIST (Girls into Science and Technology) were courageous and pioneering programmes that tackled early dropout and career stereotyping with considerable success.

The result is that girls generally do better than boys from pre-school right up to higher education. More girls than boys go to university, when it used to be the other way round. I once interviewed a retired teacher who was one of the first women to be allowed to take science at her university.

The few women had to sit in the front row and they were not allowed to study physics.

There is still some way to go in the education of girls, because very few girls take A-level physics and many are still reluctant to think about training for traditionally male jobs. Nothing I say about boys' needs, therefore, should be used to diminish girls' opportunities.

To be a young chap nowadays is to be rubbished by society. The assumption is that you must be a foul-mouthed yob with a mobile stuck to one ear and a music player to the other, or possess a multipurpose games machinetelecommunication system instead of a brain.

Young lads today? Ugh! Words fail me. They're, well . . . er, young . . . the jammy bastards.

I am not often moved to tears, apart from when I read the latest dross to emerge from the Number 10 policy unit - and then they are tears of mirth - but I struggled to hold them back when I watched a Year 9 boy, regarded as a bit of a tearaway, teach a song to a Year 4 class and then sing it with them.

This apparently naughty youth is magic with children. He had prepared his lesson, modified it like an old stager after trying it out with one group, and then sung it beautifully and sensitively with them. I bit my lip as the tears welled, trying to pass it off as hay fever, a broken man.

Catching and skinning a mammoth is not such a handy option today. In any case, what with Sats and a crowded curriculum, where on earth would you fit it in? But facing up to and taking on a challenge is feasible.

It is certainly preferable to some of the pointlessly punitive solutions proposed. I too feel like strangling the Year 9 lads I work with when they behave like idiots, but the answer is not pure rage, however satisfying and therapeutic that may be. A challenging curriculum, sensible rules enforced in a firm but fair manner, and good relationships stand a better chance.

Every time I read about "boy-friendly exams" I laugh. I know it is not fair of me to do so, as earnest test constructors anguish into the early hours about each item. But I always want to draw up my own boy-friendly exam when I see the "don't mention ballet or the colour pink" approach to testing.

Time allowed: two hours (or longer if you arrive late because you overslept).

1 What is the best way of getting out of doing your homework?

(a) Say that your grandma has rung up to ask you to do some shopping for her.

(b) Tell your dad he couldn't possibly beat you at one-a-side football.

(c) Unpick a seam of your clothes, so your mum has to mend it, instead of nagging you about getting on with your work.

2 Which will wind your parents up the most?

(a) Playing music they hate at top volume.

(b) Sitting in your room looking morose, when you're actually quite happy.

(c) Rushing over to your game machine when you hear them coming up to your room, even though you've actually been doing your homework.

3 Either (a) What is the best angle to lean back at, if you want to win the "who can piddle highest up the wall" competition?

Or (b) When gobbing across the floor, is it better to twist your head or shoot straight?

4 Write a two-word essay on the topic "Teachers are heroic public servants".

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