Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Boys being held back by flaws in system

A five-year study of hundreds of post-primary pupils in Northern Ireland has found flaws in our education system that could be hindering boys’ ability to learn.

The research — funded by the Departments of Education and Justice — was carried out following concerns about boys’ educational underachievement, health and well-being.

It has previously been noted as a particular problem among boys from working-class Protestant areas.

Key findings of the ‘Taking Boys Seriously’ report, by Dr Ken Harland and Sam McCready from the University of Ulster, include:

  • A lack of basic literacy and numeracy skills from primary school which is not being dealt with early post-primary.
  • Boys from lower academic class streams perceiving they are not given the same opportunities to learn as those from higher.
  • Boys being unprepared for key transitional stages (such as moving schools or moving from junior stream into senior) during adolescence.
  • Bullying.
  • The formal nature of the classroom leaving a significant number of boys feeling bored, frustrated and impacting negatively on their concentration.

The study of 378 male pupils from nine post-primary schools across Northern Ireland quizzed the boys annually between Years 8 and 12.

Dr Harland said that while the problem has been clear for “several decades”, “it was extremely difficult for the research team to find specific strategies addressing boys’ underachievement”.

“Although teachers who were interviewed as part of this study recognised the predominance of boys with lower academic achievement, they generally did not take this into account in terms of learning styles or teaching approaches,” he said.

One pupil told the researchers: “Teachers should understand better the way boys think and why they do some things. They’re out of touch.”

Recommendations in the 114-page report include:

  • Encouraging more males into teaching.
  • Teacher training should support teachers to understand the changing needs of adolescent boys.

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