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Better grades, better opportunities: improving educational outcomes for young men in Dorset


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Arts University Bournemouth (AUB) is coming together with Dorset’s schools in a regional network that aims to tackle an ongoing problem in education.

Young men who are eligible for free school meals have typically achieved worse grades and are less likely to go to university than their peers. The Dorset Boys’ Impact Hub, co-chaired by AUB and Ferndown Upper School, is working to change this.

Senior school leaders from across Dorset will test out ideas from the latest research on improving educational attainment in male students. The initiative is based on pilot projects in Ferndown Upper School, a major conference at AUB, and research from Ulster University. The hub will offer support for targeted projects, as well as training for staff at schools and youth organisations.

A new approach to an entrenched issue

Before the pandemic, only 17% of young men in Dorset who were eligible for free school meals achieved a grade 9-5 in GCSE Maths and English. For those not eligible for free school meals, that number more than doubles to 42%.

Educators and governments have known about the problem for a long time. But until now, there have been few successful evidence-based approaches to closing this gap. Any initiatives that did exist were based on assumptions about what might help – from after-school football clubs to academic competitions.

Now, thanks to the Dorset Boys’ Impact Hub, schools can implement ideas that truly speak to students and let them reflect on their own education.

One surprising finding was how effective creative writing can be for these young men. It allows them to explore their experiences, discuss mental health, and tell their stories to the world. While past thinking assumed that school-age young men wouldn’t sit down to write all day, the results suggest otherwise.

Dorset schools lead the way for nationwide reforms

The first project meeting in November 2023 had representatives from eight Dorset secondary schools, as well as AUB and Bournemouth University, who are hoping to raise GCSE attainment in schools. Over the next year, the team from AUB will gather evidence from the Dorset Boys Impact Hub, ready to take their successes nationwide. Universities across the country have already expressed interest in setting up their own regional hubs.

Lots of factors can influence educational attainment: socioeconomic inequality, mental ill health, relationships, peer pressure and school culture. Now with the Dorset branch of the Boys’ Impact Hub, schools in Dorset can tackle these issues from a local perspective, sharing what works and working together to improve outcomes for young men that the system has left behind for far too long.

For more information about the Dorset Boys’ Impact Hub, contact Dr Alex Blower at

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