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Do girls and boys really need to be taught separately?

Claire Winter Claire Winter | 15:18 UK time, Friday, 17 September 2010

Whilst I did find watching the second episode of Gareth Malone’s Extraordinary School for Boys really interesting and some of his ideas inspirational, I have to also say that I was a little disappointed because the general premise of the whole programme was based on the ‘difference’ between boys and girls.

Statistically boys don’t lag very far behind the girls when it comes to A Level results and it is well documented that men still get paid more than women.

Clearly in primary school there is a problem engaging boys and I wonder is this because kids are having  ideas about gender imposed  on them or do they really have different needs?

Gareth Malone teaching in a primary school in Essex

Choirmaster Gareth Malone teaches in a primary school in Essex for one term. This time he faces a new mission: to get the boys reading.

A recent study reported in the Guardian says that girls as young as four, believe they are smarter than boys.  The academics in the study believed that gender stereotyping was a major factor in formulating their beliefs.

It  also doesn’t help that primary school education is dominated by female teachers and that many people believe that the work set has a female bias, as indicated in this article in BBC News Education & Family.  Getting more male teachers, seems a good starting point but maybe they're put off by lower salaries.

Whilst I applaud Gareth for trying to engage these disinterested kids, I have to ask, what were the girls doing whilst the boys played in the woods? 

Are boys and girls really so different? Wouldn’t the whole class have benefited from outdoor activities and competition? Perhaps if they had worked together in the World Cup reading teams, perhaps the imposed gender differences on the children could have been dissipated, rather than enforced.

Surely we need to move away from such cultural determinism and find teaching methods that encourage all children to engage with books and literacy.  Books are for everyone not just ‘girls’ or ‘boys’.

One of the other elements of the programme I found most interesting were his efforts to engage the parents, clearly, it is their input that can make the biggest difference of all.

Teachers can do all they can in school but if parents allow their children’s love affair with computer games to prevent them from doing their homework, then there is not much the educators can do. 

A recent survey reported on BBC News said that kids were spending six hours a day in front of screens, half of this time was in front of a computer or a games console. Perhaps we as parents need to be re-educated on how to engage our children and not to use the television, games and computers as virtual babysitters?

Whilst Gareth only had a short period of time to improve the children’s academic performance he certainly showed that our teachers have their work cut out.

They sadly do not have the freedom that the Gareth was given to try and engage and cajole our kids into understanding the importance of literacy.

Claire Winter is a member of the BBC Parent Panel.

Find out more about the final episode of Gareth Malone’s Extraordinary School for Boys, part of. BBC Two’s School Season


Listen to the Woman's Hour podcast  - Raising Boys about how to get  boys  back on track.



  • Comment number 1.

    I have four boys myself, and I did watch Gareth's programme too.I agree with Claire when she wonders whether boys and girls are so terribly different: I have mothered them as I would have mothered a daughter - I was never a girly-girl before and always outside playing and exploring, together with lots of boys and girls. But I was also happy to sit and read, write, draw, colour in. I try to encourage my boys to do that too. And even though they need to be 'let out' to run and get rid of their energy, they can sit quietly and play with toys, read or do something by themselves too - without watching TV. I wasn't that different myself! Girls need to run around too. They like building fires, join the boy scouts and do exciting stuff too. I know I do.

  • Comment number 2.

    "It also doesn’t help that primary school education is dominated by female teachers and that many people believe that the work set has a female bias, as indicated in this article in BBC News Education & Family."

    It's not just that there is a female bias. It is also that men are actively excluded! With teaching positions like these being so dominated by females, the aftermath of the job selection interview is bound to be overly concerned with anxieties about whether a male would "fit in" at the school.

    Especially as men don't tend to get quite so quickly hysterical about day-to-day workplace issues as women. Females detecting this then hastily conclude that, a lack of interest at the same level of hysteria as them, must mean the male is out of touch or poor at his job and the back-stabbing begins!

    Small wonder then how young boys are so disinterested generally having so little in the way of male role models. Our society is all the poorer for such a wholly immature approach to school management.

  • Comment number 3.

    I personally don't think that women get "hysterical' about day-to-day workplace issues" but I definitely agree that more can be done to recruit men to teach at primary level and that boys need strong male role models.

  • Comment number 4.

    Boys and girls are different, and there is no getting away from it. As the father of a 12 year old daughter currently at an all-girls schools, I am relieved she is not learning in a mixed environment - most disruption tends to come from boys, and that comment is not based on a wild generalisation, but on my own experience of seeing how classrooms work.

    What struck me about the Gareth Malone programme and The Classroom Experiment with Dylan Wiliam that has been shown this week is this: I watched these programmes expecting to be dismayed by pupil behaviour. Instead I have come away angry and disillusioned with the quality of teaching in our schools. I've rarely seen such negativity and reluctance to embrace new ideas from such a bunch of so-called professionals - and this attitude was prevalent in both programmes. Combine this with lack of parenting skills, and it's no wonder so many children turn off from education.

    Having worked in the education sector as an "outsider", I can fully empathise with the hostility and scepticism that greeted the new ideas being put forward. The sad fact is this: educational ideas lag behind work-based adult learning environments by about 20 years. What schools are considering radical - no hands up, traffic light monitoring and peer feedback - has been the stuff of qualified trainers for years.

    Teachers may not want to hear this, but they need to up their game to give our children the education they both need and deserve. No doubt the majority involved in the profession will say they do this to the best of their abilities and within dwindling resources - but the attitudes displayed in the BBC Schools Season programmes are, in my view, rife within the profession, and need to challenged.



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