The answer is ‘a boy’ according to David Bowie. Not so I would think if you are Ofsted, Ofqual or one of the many schools that contact me about the (under)performance of boys in their schools.
I have much to say on this subject having been a boy (maybe still am), having taught in two boy’s schools and having a young son of my own. I also have a lot to say on the subject after hearing comments such as ‘Boy is just yob spelt backwards’, ‘boys underachievement? About time’ and ‘if it wasn’t for those stupid boys we would be doing really well’.
I have a son and a daughter and I expect them both to do well at school. I don’t expect one to outstrip the other just because of their gender. Unfortunately there is getting to be a notion that boys underachieve just because that is what they do.
So many schools want to know ‘what do we have to do to make boys perform’. There are two bits of bad news. One, there is there no simple answer and second boys are the best barometer of good teaching and learning. Rather than seeing them as a problem, view them as the high powered spotlight that burns into every corner of your teaching and makes you examine everything that you do.
There are plenty of boys that can and do perform well. Not all boys underperform in every subject. Imagine if we took gender out of the equation and looked at all our results ‘blind’. How would that inform our search for removing barriers to learning? When a boy somewhat pointedly tells you ‘this is boring’ are they being rude or pointing to a truth that no one else dare voice?
Being tall, comical and a bit off the wall the assumption can be that the successes I have had teaching boys is all about being ‘one of the lads’. Whilst that may be a part of the equation I don’t think that alone will carry you far. I am not one of the lads. My knowledge of football and gadgets borders on the ‘needs severe help’ and I find it hard to talk about leagues and tables.
So addressing boy’s underachievement (a title I refuse to work under any more) is actually more about finding strategies to maximise boy’s potential. A small but very significant switch in thinking but one which will open up your teaching to reflection and experimentation which will benefit everyone – even the girls!