Issue date: 22 September 2003

ISSUE DATE: 22/09/03

Boys need good male teachers as role models to combat recent trends showing academic underachievement and to encourage good behaviour in school…or do they?

Women Teaching Boys, a new book out this month by Dr Martin Ashley and Dr John Lee at the University of the West of England suggests that boys in primary schools respond to good teachers whatever their gender and that they do not see themselves as underachievers.

Evidence suggests that politicians have been over simplistic in suggesting that employing more men into the teaching profession will resolve ‘the problem with boys.’ The book suggests, to the contrary, that in primary schools women teachers are doing a good job and boys are perfectly content with them. The research goes further in suggesting that the belief that it is a lack of good male role models that is leading to problems in the classroom and a disenchantment with learning amongst boys is a misconception.

Dr Martin Ashley said, “Much research in this area has focussed on boys aged between 10 and 14 but as primary schools have the greater gender imbalance with predominantly female teachers we thought it would be interesting to investigate this issue in more depth. Unlike other research, this book is based on what boys say, and boys say they like their women teachers and would not behave or work better for men. What has emerged is that boys recognise a good teacher and it is good teaching that they respond to. A weak or badly prepared teacher is not respected but the issue of gender seems largely irrelevant. Another interesting fact to come out of this research is that teachers are not looked upon particularly as role models. Most children’s primary influencers are their mothers and their friends.”

The authors conducted in-depth interviews with over fifty boys from eight primary schools in the South West covering locations from inner city to suburban to rural and covering a wide spread of social class and ethnicity. Particular care was taken to include boys deemed in literature from an earlier study done in the late1980’s to be problematic, such as white working class boys and African-Caribbean boys.

Dr Ashley said that many of the boys interviewed were visibly astounded when presented with the idea that “boys don’t work because it’s not cool.” One extract from the research illustrates this beautifully:

‘Interviewer: “Another thing I sometimes hear is that boys think it’s not cool to work hard at school.” Carlo: “I’m not that sort of person. I like doing neat work because I’m proud of my work. I take quite a long time to do it.” Later to Mark, Interviewer says: “I’ve heard that some people are saying girls do better than some boys at school.” Mark: “They do? Please tell me who said that!” “Well some people to do with the government…” Mark: “Tony Blair! Phah! Big deal!” “So it’s not right?” Mark: “No, I reckon it’s just cruel.” “OK. Well I’ve also heard it said that people say boys think it’s not cool to work hard at school.” Mark (He pulls a big indignant frown): “Why? Please can you tell me?” Well I’m hoping you can tell me!” Mark “If it was somebody I knew, I’d have a word with them” (said menacingly)

Dr Ashley continues, “There is now a real danger that the panic about boys fuelled by reports of secondary schools will create needless and damaging low expectations of primary school boys. Our research shows that too much political emphasis has been inappropriately focussed on the need for male teachers for boys and even black teachers for black children. Dianne Abbott has famously claimed that more black teachers are needed for black boys and blamed white women teachers for the poor performance of black boys, but her views were not supported by black boys in the research.

“All of the children we interviewed expressed that there are certain qualities in a teachers that they respond to best. These qualities have been distilled into a useful blueprint for the perfect teacher. A good teacher is reasonably strict but fair, not grumpy, explains things well, helps you with your work, makes work fun and has a sense of humour. A tall order but not gender specific!”

Women Teaching Boys: Caring and working in the primary school by Martin Ashley and John Lee is published this month by Trentham Books.


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