Boys Education: The Gender Attainment Gap is a national scandal that can be closed
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Issues Affecting Men and Boys has today published a new report (Closing the Gender Attainment Gap: Boys’ Educational Underachievement) showing the gap in education results between boys and girls is not inevitable – it can be closed. It urges the Government and the education community to make tackling the Gender Attainment Gap a national education priority and to learn from those that have succeeded.
The APPG concludes that this gap which has existed in plain sight for thirty years or more, yet there has been no political, institutional or educationalist will to try resolving it. The report believes this is unacceptable. The APPG believes that the gap results from the interactions and problems that the adult world – whether families, society, and institutional inaction – has caused boys and young men. It is therefore the responsibility of the adult world to address it.
The report is based on the evidence of a range of educationalists, academics, headteachers and organisations who took part in the inquiry between March and August 2023. A full literature review was also undertaken. The evidence, including from four successful headteachers, shows there are four key pillars to successfully closing the Gender Attainment Gap:
- Institutional will
- Creating a boy-positive school environment
- Tactical interventions on better understanding boys, role models and mentors
- As a society, we need to better care about boys
The APPG recommends schools and educationalists looking for a framework, could start with Ulster University’s Taking Boys Seriously framework and adapt it to their own school’s needs. The APPG also concludes that these pillars and policy recommendations will not harm the educational achievement of girls.
A range of policy measures in the report also include:
- Ofsted assessing schools on how they are addressing their Gender Attainment Gap,
- Funding for boys’ mentoring programmes
- Teaching being promoted to as a career for young men (“This Boy Can”).
- Ensuring that trainee teachers are aware that boys’ underachievement is not inevitable
- To avoid making matters worse, very close scrutiny is needed of the course content of any organisations teaching boys about so-called “toxic masculinity” and related topics.
Nick Fletcher MP (Don Valley), Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Issues Affecting Men and Boys, said: “Boys are behind girls at every age and stage of education. It is well known, yet barely mentioned, as if it is expected, normal and acceptable. It is hidden in plain sight. The lack of action or effort from Westminster, Whitehall and the national educational establishment to address it is a modern-day scandal. If the Gender Attainment Gap was the other way round there rightly would be lots of plans, actions and initiatives. So, it is hard not to conclude, that because it is boys, it does not matter.
“This has to change, and it can. Evidence presented to the Parliamentary Group shows that those few schools who have made closing the gap a priority, have been able to do so. They have not needed extra funding either. They have just needed to want to do it and to have a real sense of purpose. They also need an understanding that creating a positive learning environment that pushes and includes boys will work. This includes bring their parents on the journey too.
“We need a national effort and push to promote what has worked at those local schools to close this gap. We also need the government and the national education community to care more about boys’ education. Their silence cannot continue. Closing the Gender Education Gap is good for the boys, good for girls and good for all society.”
Evidence presented to this inquiry from schools, edcuationlists, academic and organisations on addressing boys’ underachievement and closing the Gender Attainment Gap can be summarised in these four pillars:
- Institutional will: Schools/trusts recognise the gap, collect the data and then commit themselves throughout the school to address it continuously – from governors/academy trust boards through to teaching assistants. It is a whole-school cultural approach.
- Creating a boy-positive school environment: Schools create an inclusive, fair, positive, relational and aspirational learning environment for all students – that boys and their parents recognise includes them. Boys are not seen as a problem – some just need encouragement, understanding, being believed in, given self-esteem and pushing. They need high expectations, their successes celebrated, a disciplined environment and to understand the point of what they are being taught. A positive and encouraging relationship with boys’ parents is also vital.
- Tactical interventions on better understanding boys, role models and mentors: These are aimed at boys where needed, especially role models, literacy mentors, early literacy interventions, oracy and study skills. These are not needed for all boys, but are needed for some boys. Better understanding of the difference in boys’ motivations compared to girls is important as are more male teachers which would help boys understanding learning is for them too.
- As a society, we need to better care about boys: At a societal, political and educational level, the negative narrative on boys and the indifference that boys face, especially those with problems, has to change. This also includes dealing with the problems the adult world causes them including family dysfunction, a lack of community aspiration/opportunity and system-level educational indifference.
Notes to Editors
For information about the report, please visit: https://equi-law.uk/inquiry-4-boys-edu-underachievement/
For further media comment on the APPG from Nick Fletcher MP, please contact email@example.com and 020 7219 2759
For more information about the report, please contact Mark Brooks OBE on firstname.lastname@example.org or 07834 452357 or Mike Bell, Equi-Law UK on email@example.com
This is not an official publication of the House of Commons or the House of Lords. It has not been approved by either House or its committees. All-Party Parliamentary Groups are informal groups of Members of both Houses with a common interest in particular issues. The views expressed in this report are those of the group.
(1) Key Statistics
A full range of key statistics on boys’ education can be found in the report. However, a summary can be found here:
Key Stage 2 SATS (11 year olds)
In reading, writing and maths (combined) in 2023, 63% of girls met the expected standard compared to 56% of boys, a gap of 7 percentage points.
In 2021/22, the figures were 47% for boys and 52.7% for girls got a grade 5 or above in GCSE English and maths.
In 2022/23, 73.1% of young men secured C and above passes as did 77.4% women. This was a total of 267,000 men and 333,000 women – which is due to fewer boys taking A levels.
In 2021/22, 72,000 men and 72,000 women completed an apprenticeship. The completion rate was 97.5% and 97.6% respectively.
For September 2023, 152,120 18-year-old UK women (56.3%) and 118,230 men (43.7%) started university. A gap of 33,890.
In 2020/21, 2,960 boys and 968 girls were permanently excluded from schools.
NEETS (Not in Education, Employment and Training)
Of the total number of young people who were NEET, 427,000 were young men and 367,000 were young women. The number of young men aged 16 to 24 years who were NEET and unemployed increased by 56,000 on the quarter, a record quarterly increase – a total of 237,000 compared to 90,000 young women.
Annex 2: Policy Recommendations
The report put forward a range of policy recommendations.
|1||School should look to create the boy-positive learning environment based on the four pillars suggested by the evidence presented to the APPG.|
|2||Ulster University’s Taking Boys Seriously’ framework for improving boys’ attainment should be better recognised and promoted across all UK secondary schools. Schools, in the absence of any specific strategies and plans of their own, should recognise this framework as a tool to support them.|
|3||Government ring-fenced funding including for dissemination of frameworks and findings with respect to strategies and tactics to improve boys’ educational attainment. This should be administered by organisations such as the Education Endowment Foundation.|
|4||The Government should fund high-quality research which extends the work of the voluntarily Working Group formed by educationalists to tackle this issue. The findings should be available to all schools.|
|5||Some evidence points to a widening of the Gender Attainment Gap between boys and girls when qualifications were assessed wholly by teachers – research should be undertaken aimed at finding the reasons for this.|
|6.||The Gender Attainment Gap should be a feature of all OFSTED investigations for primary and secondary schools. Schools should be assessed on this gap and measures they are taking to close it.|
|7||The remit for a Minister for Men must specifically include improving education attainment for boys. A clear objective and responsibility for closing the attainment gap to be given to a Minister within the Department for Education. This issue should be formally recognised as a national education priority by the Government.|
|Careers and Recruitment|
|8||Careers services should promote careers as teachers to boys during secondary education.|
|9||Teacher training should feature developmental/biology and psychology differences between girls and boys. For example, how do boys differ from girls in language development and at what ages is this critical or how does puberty affect their learning development.|
|10||The Government must embark on male-focused recruitment campaigns from Year 8 aimed at promoting careers in Health, Education, Administration and Literacy (HEAL). This should be the basis of a “This Boy Can” promotional campaign similar to the hugely successful “This Girl Can”.|
|Mentoring, parents and Literacy|
|11||A national mentoring scheme for boys should be promoted and funded, based on the model developed by Lads Need Dads. There should be similar promotion of the Fatherhood Institute’s FRED (fathers’ reading everyday) campaign.|
|12||Nursery and Primary schools should provide focussed additional support to boys and girls who arrive at school with poor literacy. The Early Years ‘Foundation Stage Assessment’ being the key tool.|
|13||Schools should focus on improving parent engagement so that the whole family understand and support their children’s education.|
|14||Schools inviting in organisations to talk about boys’ issues such as ‘toxic masculinity’ ‘positive masculinity’ or similar should assess the impact these courses/organisations have on the boys. They should inform parents about these organisations and the course content and ensure that issues around harm are addressed in a holistic way to all pupils(male and female) – including on intimate partner violence and bullying (including online). Schools should not accept students being told in lessons that boys are a problem for society.|
|Core recommendations from a previous APPG report “A Boy Today”|
|15||Boys growing up in fatherlessness households should be formally recognised by policy makers and the educational establishment as being at risk in terms of educational achievement and personal development.|
|16||There needs to be greater access to funding at a national and local level for schemes that target fatherless boys.|
|17||Boy-friendly reading programmes with volunteer mentors should be rolled out across the UK.|
|18||A flagging system between primary and secondary schools should be introduced which indicates to secondary schools where a boy is from a single-parent household.|
|19||There should be one-to-one mentoring for low-achieving boys in their first year of secondary school.|
|20||Society, policy makers and the health and social care system need to stop making mistakes in their thinking and approaches regarding boys’ mental health such as: There are higher rates of mental health issues in girls than boys; Victim blaming; Assuming young men have the same social cues around ”masculinity” as their Forebears; Boys do not to suffer with problems such as relationship abuse, eating disorders, suicide ideation and bullying (especially online).|
 Department for Education. (2022/23). Key stage 2 attainment: https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/key-stage-2-attainment
 Ofqual. (2023). A level outcomes in England: https://analytics.ofqual.gov.uk/apps/Alevel/Outcomes/