Gary Wilson on Raising Boys’ Attainment

‘Who has boys? – Go home and give them a hug whether they want one or not.’  That was Gary Wilson’s start at the Last Friday at National Education Show where I had the pleasure of listening to him on his area of expertise, raising boys’ attainment.

Gary Wilson has been working on raising boys’ achievement for over 25 years. He clearly felt obliged to remind people that his strategies to develop boys have no negative impact on girls. Evidently he has had to defend the right to work in this area many times but the facts he shared, speak for themselves: 85% of youngsters excluded from school are boys and 90% of prisoners are male.

When there is a problem, society looks for a reason and then a quick fix. In this case, why are white, working-class boys outperformed by girls in every area? There are many reasons. Gary has 33. A frequently cited cause is the shortage of male teachers to which Gary made a pertinent point “less than 4% of teachers in primary or secondary are male and under 30. That’s not changing anytime soon. Get over it.” Clearly we need other solutions.

So where in the world are boys doing well?

Boys do as well as girls in Scandinavia where children start later and play outside. I found this encouraging as my youngest (a July born boy, aged 5) is having far more teaching time outside than my 11 year old son did in his infant school education.

‘Peer Police’

My biggest take-away was Gary’s work with what he called the ‘peer police’. The Year 10 boys who decide what’s cool and what’s not. He referred to boys in Year 6-8 as the ‘Peer police cadets’.

Every Year 6 teacher in the country can surely tell a tale or two about this familiar group of boys. Gary talked about how laddish behaviour is often a smoke scream, a cry for help and from his experience it would seem that with sympathetic spirit, these boys are not so hard to reach.

Gary talked about some particular projects with ‘top lads’ and ‘special missions’: taking groups of boys down to primary schools to teach street dance, poetry writing, drama and baking – not sports but softer skills which help break down gender stereotypes. A particular highlight for Gary had been with a group of Year 8  boys teaching a Year 4 class how to make pancakes.

One last thing that got me thinking was how easily we reduce boys’ self esteem and expectations of themselves. Gary showed photos of t-shirt slogans from our favourite high street stores reading ‘Lazy and proud of it’ or ‘My dad taught me everything he knows. That didn’t take long.’ With a little consideration we can all avoid apparently innocuous phrases like ‘Boys will be boys’ substituting for something far more positive like ‘Boys will be brilliant!’

I cannot recommend attending one of Gary’s seminars or reading his books more highly. Whether a primary, secondary teacher, a parent or someone interested in what’s happening in society, I am sure that you will feel inspired to make some kind of changes in your life which might positively impact others.

Check out Gary’s website for more information.


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