Why boys underachieve and some policies to combat this- kind of an update

Just a quick summary of this video for those students who didn’t get a chance to see it in class due to technical problems – once the vid has outlined some of the reasons for boys underachievement it then goes onto look at some policies to combat this – you can’t forward through it to select the best bits – which is annoying as it’s hardly the most rivetting documentary I’ve sat through!

Some of the policies referred to –

  • Single sex schools
  • A ‘male centred curriculum’
  • ‘Male centred’ learning
  • Motivating and rewarding boys in a manner that has credibility for them
  • Boy friendly resources that are more engaging for them
  • Controlling where they sit in class
  • Breaking down coursework into smaller chunks

Boys maybe underachieving, but there’s still sexist bullying in schools!

Extract from Kat Banyard’s “The Equality Illusion” – Chapter 2 – Hands up for …………….. A gendered Education

I thought students studying gender and education might like this piece of research – on the consequences of sexist bullying. This is literally copied straight out of the book above (2010), hopefully it should be obvious how it supports the radical feminist line on education…

And I’d just like to mention a quick thankyou to our admin support who typed it up!

 As her mother straps her little brother into the car, Jena stands by the front door, unable to move. She’s starting to feel dizzy. Why won’t her mum listen when she brings up her problems with Alec? It’s not going to stop. This was made clear at the end of last week when she had approached Mrs Evans, the deputy head, about the problem. ‘She listened to me carefully and then said, ‘’Well, you know, you’re all growing up and boys do this sort of thing, because boys will be boys.’’ ‘

Hearing the car engine start, Jena finally picks up her rucksack and walks down the path. In the car, she puts her head back and starts counting her breaths, determined not to have another panic attack like last week. As the houses and streets shoot past the window all she can think about is Geography at 11:40 because Alec will be there. Alec is not in the same tutor group as Jena but on four days out of five she has lessons with him. His typical behaviour towards her include: ‘grabbing my breasts in the school corridors. Sitting opposite me in class and making obscene gestures and threatening comments (‘’I’m going to fuck you’’:  ‘’are you going to sit on my cock?’’)Jumping on me in the playground and rubbing against me, swearing at me loudly in front of other pupils (‘fucking bitch’). He refers to me as ‘’tits’’, ‘’fucking massive tits’’, and ‘’fucking bitch’’.’

Jena is fifteen. She has experienced sexual harassment from boys since she was nine and thinks it’s related to the fact that she is ‘developed’ for her age. But it has never been this bad before and over the past five months school has become unbearable. ‘On one occasion I fainted in class because I was so terrified of going to the next lesson which he shared with me.’ Jena has recently stated refusing to go to school. But with her grades slipping and GCSEs next year, her mum has been getting stricter about it. Jena can understand this but given that she can’t concentrate when she’s at school – and the deputy head has now refused to do anything – what’s the point? All too quickly her mum pulls up behind a row of parked cars opposite the school. Saying nothing Jena gets out of the car and walks towards the main entrance. By the time she reaches her locker the registration bell is ringing. She has a sickly feeling in her stomach. Only two hours and forty minutes to go.

 Jena got in touch with me after I sent out an email through several feminist sexual harassment e-networks asking to interview girls who were experiencing sexual harassment at school. Hers was one of many responses received and she is just one of many millions of girls throughout the world who are sexually harassed at school every year. According to the World Health Organisation, school is the most common setting for sexual harassment and coercion. Researchers have found that girls experience more harassment by adult school personnel and peers than boys do and their experiences are also more severe. A US study in 2008 found that of the 14% of middle and high school students who had been sexually harassed during that school year, girls suffered significantly more trauma symptoms and experienced a greater toll on their self-esteem and their mental and physical health. Lesbian and disabled girls are found to be particularly at risk of harassment.

A couple of months after the harassment began Jena started to binge eat in the evenings as it made her feel better for a short period. But afterwards she would invariably feel so disgusted with herself that she would make herself sick. Recently however the bingeing has stopped and she is now obsessively regulating her calories intake and becomes distressed if she consumes more than 500 calories a day. ‘I initially state to diet in the hope that doing so would reduce the size of my breasts, ‘Jena explained, telling me quite frankly that the sexual harassment is making her hate her body and that she wants to reverse her physical development. She described her dieting as ‘a way to regain control in my life.’ Unsurprisingly she is also experiencing a slump in her academic performance.

 Sticks & stones

While girls are discouraged from using their bodies on the sports field, they often find their bodies at the centre of another unwelcome kind of activity. Chloe was one of the many women and girls I heard from during the course of my research into violence at school. ‘I had boys groping my en masse. It wasn’t just at break times – in class as well. Sometimes they used to hold me down and take it turns, it was universally accepted. Teachers pretended they didn’t notice. I would regularly hang out in the toilets at break time. I felt pretty violated; it made me hate my body.’ Having now left school, Chloe can pinpoint exactly when the sexual harassment began. ‘When my breasts grew. I went from an A to an E cup when I was fourteen.’ It became a regular feature of her school day, mostly happening when the boys were in groups. ‘People would randomly scream ‘’slut’’. One boy told me that he has a fantasy that he wanted to tie me up and viciously rape me. He was a bit of an outcast. But when he said that all the boys were high-fiving him. He got serious street-cred for saying it.’’ Classrooms are training grounds for boys aspiring to be ‘real men’ and girls like Jena and Chloe are paying the price. Humiliating and degrading girls serves to highlight just how masculine boys really are. And so, sexist bullying and sexual harassment are an integral part of daily school life for many girls.

Megan described how boys used to taunt her in the corridors at secondary school. ‘Older students would say things like, ‘’ Look at her knockers!’’ in hushed voices. Or they would exchange looks and make breast outlines on their chests. That was particularly hurtful.’ For other girls the harassment is physical as well. Ava was just seven years old when it began. She was so far ahead academically for her age that her teacher started running out of new tasks to give her. So instead she would regularly ask Ava to go to the classroom next door and tutor some of the other pupils and that’s where she met Adam. ‘At first he just sat too close……(later) he would start by making excuses to bend down to look up my skirt, such dropping his pencil. At one point I was helping him when he suddenly declared that he loved me. While I stood there in shock he put his hand up my skirt. ‘Adam informed Ava that his dad showed him pornography. ‘He used to brag about this fact.’ Ava soon asked her teacher to be excused from tutoring other students. ‘I told the teacher that I didn’t want to, that one of the other students was being very mean to me and trying to touch me. She didn’t react to my comments about him trying to touch me and told me that I had to tutor other students because she had nothing else for me to do and I couldn’t just do nothing.’ In response Ava started intentionally falling behind in her work so she wouldn’t be made to tutor Adam any more.   

Hayley also described to me how some of the boys at her secondary school were using new technologies to harass girls. ‘They try and take pictures with their camera phones up you skirt while you’re sitting at your desk. Nobody knows what to say. They wouldn’t want to provoke an argument.’ Boys also access internet pornography on school computers. Hayley said, ‘in year seven and eight it’s quite common. Even the boys you wouldn’t expect you see getting told off by teachers for it.’ Similarly Sarah remembers pornography being commonplace at her school; ‘Every student was asked to bring in newspaper articles. Many boys saw this as a great opportunity to bring in newspapers such as the Sun, Star, Sport etc and make a point of looking at, sharing and showing the countless page-three-style images. Sarah was ‘extremely upset on a number of occasions when boys who sat near me in class would push these pages in front of me and make comments. Most of the time all the forms of harassment went completely unchallenged; I don’t think (the teachers) ever paid any attention to sexual harassment.’

The consequences for girls who are sexually harassed or assaulted at school can be devastating. Unsurprisingly as Jena found it can cause victims to participate less in class, attain lower grades and even drop out of school altogether.  Depression and loss of self-esteem are common. If girls experience repeated sexual harassment they are significantly more likely to attempt suicide. In fact the trauma symptoms reported by adolescent girls subject to sexual harassment have been found to be similar to those descried by rape victims. Yet despite the fact that sexual harassment is shown to have a more damaging impact on victims than other forms of school bullying, teachers are less likely to intervene in incidences of the former. Why? Well as Jena’s teacher said to her, ‘boys will be boys.’ The sexual harassment of girls is viewed as ‘normal’ behaviour for the boys. And it is precisely this naturalising of the act, this insidious complacency it elicits, which has enabled sexist bullying and harassment to flourish in classrooms across the world.

The daily trip to school is uncertain, frightening and dangerous for millions of girls across the world. Those fortunate enough to make it to the school gates regularly spend their day exposed to a hidden curriculum of gender inequality. Although not written into their timetables, the learning takes place every time they enter the classroom, go out to the playground or walk on to the sports field. The gender trenches of masculinity and femininity produce segregation and violence. Yet the equality illusion persists under the guise that what we are witnessing are natural, biological differences. And so, school continues to be a key site where gender inequality is reflected and reproduced – with boys and girls taught lessons that will have damaging repercussions in their adult lives.

Tony Sewell – explaining black boys’ underachievement

A few details of Sewell’s explanations for the relative underachievement of British Caribbean boys

Against people like David Gilborn, he argues that it’s ¨not  teacher Racism! He says there are ¨Multiple causes – Mainly out of school –

  • Lack of legitimate opportunities to get a good education!
  • Poverty
  • High proportion of single mother households
  • Cultural Deprivation –
  • Anti-school peer group pressure – gang culture
  • Poor schools – ethos of low expectation
  • Low teacher expectation (rather than racism) – linked to their knowledge about what’s going on outside of school ¨
  • All of this results in lack of self belief – an ‘Oxford’s not for me ‘attitude!

Sewell also says that black boys suffer from a  lack of social capital (contacts) He also, says, NB – it’s about class and gender as much as race!

Sewell’s argues that the solution to black boys underachievement is to provide them with strict schooling that demands high expectations and, as far as is possible, provide them with positive opportunities that middle class students get through their social and cultural capital that middle class students ; effectively he says that if we do this, then this should make up for the disadvantageous they underachieving boys face. Importantly, Sewell, does not seem to accept that disadvantage is an excuse for failure.

Sewell runs the ‘generating genius’ programme – aimed at improving the educational opportunities of disadvantaged students –

Details of Sewell’s  Experiment –  ‘Generating Genius Programme  -how to raise black boys’ achievement
The aim of generating genius was to get 25 black boys, all from failing schools, interested in science and engineering. Starting in 2006, at age 12-13, these boys spent three or more weeks of their summer vacation working alongside scientists at some of Britain’s top universities, such as Imperial College. Sewell claims that these boys got amazing GCSE results, and now that the first wave have had their university acceptances, at least 3 have made it into Oxford and Cambridge.

Sewell argued that Generating Genius worked because it established the right ethos and high expectations – which effectively combated the disadvantages that his students black boys faced – They also created a ‘science crew’ or a learning crew’ – imitating gang mentality (relevant for boys!) and exposing these children to universities at an early age – made them think ‘university is for me!’ and provided the contacts necessary to get them into those unis.

There are lots of limitations to this’ experiment’ – just a few include –

  1. Lacks representativeness – very small sample of ten boys!
  2. Lack of control of variables means we don’t actually know why the boys improved so much – was it due to the contacts, or did they try harder because this was a unique project and thus they felt ‘very special’? (a problem of reliability)
  3. Ignores white working class underachievement (worse than A-C working class!)
  4. Girls also excluded

I also wonder whether or not Sewell’s work really gets to the root of the problem – Class inequality! Summer schools for black boys funded by charities cannot compete with the advantages the upper middle classes give to their children by sending them to £16000/ year prep. Schools such as Sunningdale. Also, Even if you provide fair and equal opportunities for black boys surely Racism in wider society will still disadvantage them as a group compared to white boys?

Related Posts – The Role of Cultural Factors in Explaining Differential Achievement by Ethnicity

The insignificance of humanity

tree-magnifiedThe Tree of Life diagram is a great source to remind you of the utter insignificance of humans in the overall evolutionary scheme of things and in the complex ‘web of life’ in general. Click on the link immediately below to get the full chart!!!

The Tree of Life Diagram

For more details on what the tree is outlining and where it came from – try this link

OK so this is a cheap post, and science students of the last decade are probably familiar with it already – but I’ve only just come across it – and thought this amazing diagram needed sharing. I think it’s important to drum home the insignificance of each individual and the species in general as an antidote to a society obsessed with self.

Green beans, land grabs and biofuels

What, you might ask, do these have in common? – They are all examples of the developed world using land in the developing world to fuel high levels of consumption at the expense of local populations.

All thes clips are from the BBC’s excellent ‘Future of Food’ series which aired in 2010.

The first videos look at how Kenya exports £1.5 million of food to the UK – while at the same time being dependent on Food Aid to feed it’s children – and I’m sorry but I’m with the bioregionalists on this – this is crazy! (starts half way in)

This second video looks at how India is growing biofuels for export to the developed world – using its land to meet our demand for fuel rather than feeing the millions of malnourished children in India

This final clip looks at land grabs – China and Saudi Arabia, amongst others, are leasing huge tracts of land in Africa to export food back home.

Of course, you could argue that these projects mean that these developing countries are bringing money in – thus inducing more rapid economic growth which should eventually lead to higher family incomes and smaller family sizes. This will no doubt happen – for the emerging middle classes – but I somehow doubt this will be the reality for the millions of poor farmers that get pushed off their land and into further poverty as large factory farms oriented to exporting to the developed world play an ever larger role in agriculture in the developing world.

Hans Rosling – Population growth, IKEA style

In this video Hans Rosling talks about population growth since 1960 to the present day and muses on what might happen by 2050 – using boxes as a visual aid to highlight how population growth occurs mainly in the developing world. 

While this video is an excellent aid to understanding how population is growing and how world demographics, in terms of how population sizesare changing in the developing compared to the developed world, there is little analysis of why population growth occurs, despite the rather obvious stateement that it’s linked to high birth rates.

Rosling says that he’s a ‘possibilist’ rather than an optimist or a pessimist – at the end of the video Rosling states that with a combination of the right assistance from the West, efficient use of green technologies and good governance in the developing world, we can effectively slow population growth in the developing world.  

The videos in this post, however, might convince you that far from the west assisting the developing world in brining its population under control, quite the opposite happens – the West sucks food resources out of the developing world – keeping poor countries stuck in a cycle of poverty – high birth rates – rapid population growth.

Should you boycott the 2011 Census?

facebook_logoLockheed Martin is set to earn £150 million for running part of the UK National Census. The problem here is that this company earns 80% of its income from working for the American military and has profitted massively from the recent illegal war in Iraq.

There are also concerns that Lockheed Martin will use the information it gets for its own purposes – it offers intelligence services to governments around the world.

Meanwhile, Caci, the company chosen to run the census in Scotland has been linked to the torture of prisoners at Iraq’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison.

There are several people out there calling for a boycott – such as the morning star – on the grounds that it is wrong to support an arms company -although you do face a £1000 fine if you do choose not to fill the form in – and others against a boycott –

Meanwhile Liberal Conspiracy reminds us that Lockheed Martin gets paid anyway and that such a move is counter productive as it just prevents local councils from getting the data they need to provide effective public services.  

Whether you choose to boycott the Census or not – the decision by the government to award this contract to massive arms firms clearly shows, yet again, its willingness to support the arms trade with our tax revenue.

Jamie – loved yer mushroom Risotto, but I find yer ‘dream school’ programme unpalatable.

Jamie, thanks for teaching me how to make a really nice Mushroom Risotto – in return I attach this document – which you might like to work through like my AS level students did last week –

Education videos and Web links with Qs

It will show you that the problem with your ‘dream school’ show is that it ignores the underlying class inequalities that lead to such massive failures in education – it is predominantely children from low income backgrounds that fail at school – suffering from material and cultural deprivation while the middle classes use their material and cultural capital to give their kids an unfair advantage.

Programmes like this make it seem as if children fail in school because of their own choices – this is not the case – the main reason children fail in school is because they are poor and the middle classes always make the education system work in their favour.

So while I’m really glad you found cheffing as a way of earning money – don’t patronise these kids – most of them are the victims of a class system in which the odds are stacked against them, and the opportunities for a decent life simply aren’t out there for all of them!

Some further evidence of the relative advantages of those with different incomes –

Connor et Al: Immediate Gratification linked to lack of money (2001)
Conducted focus group interviews with 230 students from 4 different FE colleges from a range of class backgrounds, some of whom had chosen to go to university and some who had not chosen to go to University. The main findings were that working class pupils are discouraged from going to university for three main reasons: Connor and Jewson (2001) found three types of ‘discouraging factors’ that prevented qualified working class candidates entering higher education:

  • Firstly, such candidates want ‘immediate gratification’. They want to earn money and be independent at an earlier age. This is because they are aware of their parents having struggled for money and wish to avoid debt themselves
  • Secondly, they realise that their parents cannot afford to support them during Higher Education and did not like the possibility of them getting into debt
  • Thirdly, they have less confidence in their ability to succeed in HE.


Leon Fenstein: Lack of Income correlated with Restricted Speech Code (2003)
The class divide, once set, then maintains itself with increasing rigidity throughout school life, with the gap growing for most children: “Only 14% of young people from lower income backgrounds go to university, compared to 75% from more advantaged homes.”Research by Leon Feinstein, a researcher in child development at University College, London. Just before their second birthday, children were given four simple tasks to see how they were developing their skills:

  • The ability to point to different facial features when asked
  • Putting on and taking off a pair of shoes
  • Stacking a pile of coloured bricks
  • Drawing lines and circles on a piece of paper, as opposed to simple scribbles

It was discovered that the children of middle-class, professional backgrounds were far better at completing the tasks than children of working-class parents. A difference in income of £100 a week was equal to a 3% improvement in the ability  to do the tasks. Children whose parents were educated to at least A level standard were 14% above those whose parents were not.

 The research fits in with other findings which revealed that children of working-class parents tend to be more passive; less engaged in the world around them and have a more limited vocabulary. Children from middle-class households had a wider vocabulary, better understanding of how to talk to other people and were more skilled at manipulating objects.

 Education officials said that parents’ willingness to spend time with their children, how much they spoke to them and the amount of reading they did all produced differences in their child’s attainment.  The research found that toddlers in the bottom quarter of the test results were significantly less likely to leave school with qualifications. The findings also revealed that children in the top 25% of results at the age of three-and-a-half were twice as likely to go on to A-levels than those in the bottom quarter.

The richer your parents, the better you read  Prof Edward Melhuish, (2005)
A five-year-old whose parents earn more than £67,500 has reading skills six months more advanced than one whose parents are jobless, a Government-funded study revealed. The gap occurs irrespective of natural ability, parents’ education or how often mothers and fathers read to their child. The children of those earning between £30,000 and £66,000 have an advantage of almost four months; Children whose parents’ earned income is between £2,500 and £15,000 are three weeks more advanced.Prof Edward Melhuish, the project’s leader, said: “We have isolated the effects of an earned family income on a pre-school child’s education attainment from their parents’ occupational status, education level and home environment, and have found that it has a profound effect.” Families with an earned income are more likely to be actively involved in society, have a more stringent attitude to learning and higher expectations of their children. “We suspect this advantage will become more extreme as the child’s education continues,” added Prof Melhuish. “Teachers will assume that children who enter school already confident, fluent and familiar with learning have great potential and will push them to achieve accordingly,” he said.
Class Strategies and the Education Market: The Middle Class and Social advantage, Stephen Ball (2003)
Stephen Ball argues that government policies of choice and competition place the middle class at an advantage. They have the knowledge and skills to make the most of the opportunities on offer. Compared to the working class they have more material capital, more social capital – access to social networks and contacts which can provide information and support. Strategies: The aim of parents is to give their children maximum advantage in the education system. The choice of school is vital, And this is where middle class parents, who Ball refers to as ‘skilled choosers’ come into their own. Compared to working class parents (disconnected choosers) they are more comfortable with dealing with pubic institutions like schools, they are more used to extracting and assessing information. For example they use social networks to talk to parents whose children are attending the schools on offer. They collect an analyse information about GCSE results and they are more used to dealing with and negotiating with administrators and teachers. As a result, if entry to a school is limited, they are more likely to gain a place for their child.   The school/ parent alliance: Middle class parents want middle class schools and schools want middle class pupils. In general the schools with more middle class students have better results.. Schools see middle class students as easy to teach and likely to perform well. They will maintain the schools position in the league tables and its status in the education market.

The British public couldn’t care less about fairtrade

I just calculated that fairtrade sales make up about 0.3% of all sales in the UK. Total retail sales in the UK- £285 billion, fairtrade sales £799 million 2009 figures! Only approx figures.

What put me on to the above was some research I’m doing on supermarkets and fairtrade – I happened accross the sales of Tesco – so I knocked up this graphic to illustrate – (It’s hardly beautiful – my lack of expertise at graphics – I will get this sorted!) On the left is the value of all fairtrade sales (800 million approx) and on the right – Teso’s sales – £65 billion approx –


Of course a lot of these fairtrade products will be sold in Tescos – given that 1 in 7 of all our pounds are spent in Tescos!*  and Tescos is hardly committed to fairtrade – this gives you something of the lack of impact faitrade has relative to all trade in the UK .

I think this is especially relevant at the moment – what with UK AID budget under review – which is approx. £8 billion a year. These figures give you some idea of how much more important trade is than aid in terms of money – and just how much of a shit the British public couldn’t give about fairtrade!

It’s actually  fairtrade fortnight at the moment – go out and buy something with the label! Together I’m sure we can make fairtrade 0.4% of the retail market – whoopdedo!

* OK So maybe the comparison isn’t quite fair as there’s overlap, but given that the FT figure is so small, I don’t think this detracts from the point I’m making – the difference is still stark however you want to modify things to take account of this!