Written evidence submitted by the Men and Boys Coalition
Submission to UK Parliament Education Committee: Left-behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Submitted by Dan Bell (CEO) and Ally Fogg (Chair). July 2020.
About the Men and Boys Coalition
Charity no. 1183014
The Men and Boys’ Coalition is a registered charity and the only umbrella charity for the men’s issues sector in the UK. We champion the work of a current membership of around 90 charities, campaigners and academics, including many who support and/or research the needs of boys from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In November 2018 we organised and hosted the National Conference on Creating Positive Futures for Boys and Young Men, with contributors who included Sir Robert Halfon Chair of the Education Select Committee, former head of UCAS Mary Curnock-Cook OBE and former government ‘Tsar’ on children’s mental health, Natasha Devon MBE. The materials gathered at and for this conference drove the creation of a 14-point plan to address boys’ underachievement in education and a resource called the Boys’ and Young Men’s Education Toolkit, both available free from our website. These materials inform this submission.
The Men and Boys’ Coalition submits that the most important variable in understanding the situation of left-behind pupils (specifically, but not exclusively, white pupils) is gender.
While there are many complexities within attainment data by ethnicity, on gender there need be no reservations; girls outperform boys in every cohort at every stage, by age group, ethnicity and FSM-eligibility. These gender attainment gaps continue to widen every year.
It is our expectation that one consequence of school closures due to COVID-19 shall be to extenuate existing disparities, meaning the growth in attainment gaps are likely to accelerate for years to come, purely as a result of COVID-19, in addition to all other ongoing factors.
We present evidence and arguments here to demonstrate that ethnicity and social class/financial poverty are experienced in an intersection with gender, not as isolated factors, that they can only be properly understood through their relationship to gender issues, and that any solutions which do not fully and properly consider and include gender will be destined to fail.
We ask the inquiry to consider the institutional mechanisms of discrimination and disadvantage, including use of fixed-term and permanent exclusion; evidence of extensive ‘missing’ children from Progress 8 Attainment data and provision (or in some cases under-provision) of adequate SEN services.
We ask the Inquiry to consider the social, gender and ethnic make-up of the UK’s teaching profession and other educational and social role models, not merely on grounds of educational attainment, but also as an issue of equality and representation.
We are honoured to be able to present to the committee examples of local grassroots charitable projects working with left-behind pupils which have demonstrable positive impacts in improving educational attainment among many other social benefits.
We would firstly like to note our profound disappointment that the terms of this inquiry do not include any mention of gender, when it is widely acknowledged and understood that male gender is a much stronger and more consistent predictor of educational underachievement among ‘left-behind’ children on free school meals (FSM) than white ethnicity.
We note from the DfE’s Progress 8 data that boys from a Black Caribbean/FSM background have even poorer educational outcomes at GCSE levels than White British/FSM boys, and both have significantly poorer outcomes than their female peers. Black Caribbean/FSM boys are vastly over-represented both in the statistics for school exclusions and in the Progress 8 cohort of children with Special Educational Needs, and the attainment scores within both these categories are especially worrisome.
We understand that there may be specific cultural and social connotations to the ‘white working class’ identity which are unique to pupils of this group, and these are valid and deserving of consideration and (where appropriate) remedial policy, in their own right. However, we urge the committee to ensure that the findings and recommendations of this inquiry should not further marginalise those members of BAME communities who already experience educational disadvantage as well as other forms of social exclusion and discrimination, including structural, societal and institutional racism.
TERM OF REFERENCE: The extent of underachievement for white pupils who are eligible for FSM (free school meals), and how well the DfE’s statistics (including Progress 8 measures) capture that
We ask that the Inquiry should recognise the broad academic theoretical consensus that social identities are not cumulative, but intersectional. This means, by our own definition, that social and psychological discrimination and prejudice on grounds of race, class, gender, sexuality, etc. do not operate in isolation from each other but interact with, alter and amplify each other. In practice this means that (for example) a white working class boy is perceived and treated by society not merely as white + working class + male, but as a unique combination of those characteristics - the ‘whiteness’ of the working class boy is perceived and interpreted differently to the ‘whiteness’ of a middle-class girl, and so may operate entirely differently as a predictor of educational success.
With that in mind, we urge the Committee to consider not how individual factors (specifically poverty and ethnicity) impact upon educational progress, but how different lived identities – which must include gender – operate in toto.
It is clear from all educational attainment data that poverty (taken from FSM as a proxy) is by far the strongest general predictor of poor educational attainment. This is followed by male gender, showing a relatively consistent pattern of underachievement compared to female peers, while ethnicity shows complex and sometimes inconsistent trends. As a broad pattern, white children as a whole are performing very close to the national average; white children on FSM perform markedly worse than most (though not all) other ethnic groups on FSM, while white boys on FSM perform worse than any other group excepting black (Caribbean) FSM boys and traveller children.
We would like to remind the inquiry of the extent of male educational under-attainment, in all social categories, at all levels:
(1) Key Stage 2
Girls continue to outperform boys. In 2018, the gender gap at the expected standard in reading, writing and maths was 8 percentage points: 68% of girls reached the expected standard compared to 60% of boys.
The gender gap is 8 percentage points for reading, 1 percentage point for maths, 9 percentage points for grammar, punctuation and spelling and 12 percentage points for writing teacher assessment
Department for Education:
62.3% of males received A*-C grades whilst 71.4% of women received the same results – the equivalent of 261,522 more A-C grades being awarded to women than men.
(3) A Levels
More women achieved A*-C grades than men (78.7% grades compared to 75.1%), which meant that females received 76,891 more A*-C grades in total than men, due to a greater number of women taking them.
In 2008, the gender gap between British men and women attending British universities was 48,000 (a percentage point gap of 12). In 2017 it had risen to 65,000. Over the decade 520,000 fewer British men had taken places at British universities (a percentage point gap of 14).
In 2016/17, 54% of apprenticeships starts were started by women (262,820) and 46% by men (228,520).
It has been our experience that educational policy makers and service providers have consistently and systematically failed to take meaningful action on the wide and widening gender attainment gap, and that this has had especially acute consequences for students who are marginalised on other grounds too. We would like to point to:
1/ The absence of attainment equality as a target. At present there are no league tables or other reputational rewards for schools that raise attainment standards of lower-achieving groups to those of their higher achievers. We know of some schools have exceptional results for girls and relatively poor results for boys and this shows up as an above average performance on league tables (and accompanying ‘outstanding’ OFSTED rating) despite the schools (arguably) failing half their pupils. Recording, reporting and publicising schools’ achievements with respect to gender, different ethnicities and FSM status would not only incentivise improvement, but would provide important and valuable information to parents and communities in judging the best school for their child(ren).
2/ Absence of targeted support/promotion of early years literacy. One of the largest gaps in educational achievement is in reading and writing. These are the key skills that are important for all children and impact on educational attainment across subject areas.
Currently, in the UK, 19 per cent of 15-year-old boys, compared to 13 per cent of girls, have insufficient reading skills to participate effectively and productively in life. Increased emphasis on reading and writing in the school curriculum for both boys and girls would not only have a crucial impact on educational attainment, but on young people’s life chances in general. There is extensive research showing children from poor backgrounds are less likely to have many (or even any) books in their homes growing up, which may have severe consequence for later academic achievement.
3) Gender-inclusive learning resources
At GCSE, boys fall behind in most school subjects except for Mathematics and Physics. While we wholeheartedly support the focus on girls’ education in regard to these subjects, it is crucial that this important additional support for girls should not come at the cost of boys who are drawn to studying non-organic STEM subjects (Maths, Computer Science and Engineering).
Similarly, we believe that it is crucial to create the same opportunities for boys to benefit from additional teaching resources in subjects where boys are under-represented, as are provided for encouraging girls into STEM, while at the same time not taking away from girls’ academic attainment in subjects such as Medicine, Veterinary Science, Teaching, Law, Psychology and English.
It is likely that such interventions would be particularly effective for children from white working class backgrounds, where traditional employment for boys in manufacturing and heavy industry (to which they often continue to be socially conditioned to expect) may no longer exist.
4) Reverse the rise in school exclusions and improve child mental health care.
In 2012, the Schools Commissioner’s report into exclusions calculated that a black British-Caribbean boy on FSM and with Special Educational Needs was 168 times more likely to be excluded from school than a white, non-FSM, non-SEN girl. We know of no more stark illustration of the intersectional nature of discrimination in schools than that, and would note that since then rates of both fixed term and permanent exclusions have risen markedly year on year. It is particularly distressing to have to note that children with SEN are vastly more likely to be excluded than other children, and that boys are around four times as likely to be excluded as girls. We note the findings of mental health researchers who observe that boys in emotional mental distress tend to use coping strategies which externalise into violence and destruction while girls are more likely to internalise into self-harm and depression. It is our contention that routine practice of exclusions is discriminatory and used as an easier alternative to humane interventions on mental health and emotional distress, and that this must change. We are not aware of specific research on discrimination against white working class boys (or girls) on this front, but would be surprised if prejudice and discrimination did not operate here too.
5) Increase gender equality in educational staff and other social role models.
There is no evidence to suggest male and female teachers produce different educational outcomes, for either girls or boys. Male and female teachers are, of course, equally skilled and effective. However there are very good reasons to believe the very visible scarcity of male teachers, classroom assistants and childcare workers – especially in pre-school and primary levels, has an influence on the aspirations of boys, in particular. Classroom anecdote suggests that girls now perceive themselves to have a much wider range of future career options and lifestyle opportunities than boys do, and there is every reason to believe this may be particularly acute among working class boys. We would add that gender equality in the workplace is a desirable goal on its own terms, in education as everywhere else.
TERM OF REFERENCE: The effects of COVID-19 on this group
It seems probable that the extended period of school closures in Spring/Summer 2020 will have the effect of aggravating and amplifying existing disparities in educational attainment. Children who are the least engaged and motivated to participate educational activities under normal circumstances are, we would suggest, highly unlikely to have either the personal motivation or the external pressure to commit to home-schooling and self-study. The children who will have the most support and encouragement to continue learning at home are likely to have the advantages of economic privilege and social capital. In addition children who are entitled to FSM are disproportionately likely to live in an environment that is not conducive to home study, with overcrowded and low quality housing and a disruptive environment.
We would observe too, with regret, that there were no public messaging efforts issued by Government or any educational authorities which emphasised (or even acknowledged) this concern, far less additional offers of help or support to children from educationally marginalised backgrounds.
TERM OF REFERENCE: The impacts of this underachievement, both for individuals and for communities
There can be no doubt that educational underachievement has catastrophic personal and social consequences. Children who leave school without adequate qualifications and without a route into higher/further education, are disproportionately likely to find themselves NEET; and from there much more likely to end up involved in crime, in prison, homeless, or otherwise excluded from healthy and productive society. Educational failure has a price that is paid by the individual, but paid many times over by society. Our collective failure to address the underachievement of financially impoverished children, and especially boys, has a devastating social and economic cost. Half of prisoners are functionally illiterate, with a reading age < 11.
TERM OF REFERENCE The value of locally-tailored solutions, including youth groups and community organisations
CASE STUDY 1: ‘Lads Need Dads.’
Lads Need Dads (LND) is an award-winning community interest company based in Tendring, Essex, an area primarily made up of white working class communities. The project aims to address problems commonly arising where boys are missing a father-figure in their lives, with the use of male mentoring and peer-support programmes, group activities, support and life-skills training and volunteering opportunities.
Over the past five years, LND have demonstrated that a gender-inclusive approach to marginalised young men and their actual immediate needs and circumstances make a marked (and quantifiable) improvement to behaviour and engagement both in and outside school, along with many other benefits. The project evaluated outcomes of its 2017 intake and found 46% of boys moved up in sets by the end of the intervention. two boys in SEN provision moved up into mainstream schooling and one of the boys achieved the GCSE results in his year.
CASE STUDY 2: Future Men
Founded in 1988 (under the name Working With Men), Future Men is a multi-award-winning specialist charity that supports boys and men along the path to becoming dynamic future men, whilst addressing the stereotypes around masculinity and engaging in the wider conversation of what it means to be a man.
Through evidence-based and practice-led services, the project works with boys and men from childhood to 25 to help them become healthy future men. From structured school programmes and youth hubs to individual one-to-one sessions and outreach work, they provide the vital support and advocacy that changes boys and young men’s lives for the better, including some who have been excluded from education.