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Being a Boy: Attainment gap in white working-class boys explored in joint university project

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Arts University Bournemouth (AUB) is working in partnership with the University of Portsmouth and the University of Winchester has launched Being a Boy to explore attainment issues among teenage working class boys across the region.

Over the past ten years, low numbers of educationally-successful working-class male students in the UK have led to increased scrutiny and focus over how this group goes on to participate in university. Mirrored across much of the UK, data obtained from Dorset’s schools identified that between 2018 and 2021, 49% of boys achieved GSCE grades of 9-5 in English and Maths, compared to just 25% in boys receiving Free School Meals.

Through Being a Boy, Access and Participation Teams at Arts University Bournemouth (AUB), University of Portsmouth and the University of Winchester will work together to support this affected group and understand more about what can be done to improve attainment.

Being a Boy will feature on-campus and virtual sessions for both teachers and young men, developing teacher knowledge, providing opportunities for boys to creatively engage with issues relating to masculinity, and increasing confidence to express thoughts, feelings and experiences.

The group will also develop critical reflection skills and create a mechanism to reflect findings with educators both locally and nationally, including the commissioning of a documentary that will include the work of young men taking part.

The project began with a talk from author Mark Roberts, who spoke to more than 150 teachers about research found while writing his book Boys Don’t Try? Re-thinking Masculinity in School.

Lucy Hensher, a participating Teacher at Thomas Hardye School in Dorset, said: “Boys educational attainment and behaviours linked to this, is a really current issue at my school. Teaching Sociology, I teach about how gender stereotypes and labelling can affect educational achievement, so it is always something I bear in mind.

“Some of the strategies suggested in the Being a Boy training I found I could certainly implement into my teaching, such as positive reinforcement to ensure conflict is deescalated quickly and learning can begin. This might ensure more boys staying in lessons, having more positive interactions with teachers, and therefore rewriting some of those labels that are all too often given to them from a very early age.”

Dr Alex Blower, Access and Participation Manager at AUB, said: “As a University, we recognise disparities in boys’ attainment as one of the most significant challenges facing the education system not just across our region, but nationally.

“Arts University Bournemouth is committed to deepening our understanding of the barriers facing young men in education, convening schools, colleges and universities in a collective effort to level the playing field of educational opportunity.”

The young men will take part in taster sessions in creative arts disciplines including creative writing, dance and photography, before the project enters an evaluation phase.

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