Are you ready to ELBA? CEO, Ian Parkes asks what is ‘the trouble with boys?’
The trouble with boys – it’s a frequently asked question in education circles, and a new report his week by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) (Boys to Men: The underachievement of young men in higher education (link is external)) gives new edge to it. The report shows that women in the UK are now 35% more likely than men to go to university and the gap is widening every year. If current trends continue a girl born in 2016 will be 75% more likely to go to university than a male contemporary, and this does call into question how we can achieve our goals for social mobility for all. The trend is particularly marked for white boys from disadvantaged families – only about 10% will go to university – the lowest of any social or ethnic group.
The HEPI report suggests that one contributory factor may be a steadily decreasing incidence of male role models in schools. In the schools where I have been a governor we have consistently had a gap between the level of male and female attainment. The gap varies year to year, but it persists. A couple of years ago the gap was at its narrowest, and in certain respects the boys outperformed the girls. Forensic data was called for, explanations sought. If we can understand the success, we can replicate it, surely? It turns out the explanation was a coincidence of a particular group of male teachers and senior leaders who managed to hit it off with this cohort of boys as they moved through the school, and a particular form of joshing them along and banter (some might say a particularly male form of the sport) had got the boys to work harder and to have pride in achievement. The next year, the gap widened again.
Businesses can help. Input to schools from business volunteers can only increase the exposure of boys to male role models. ELBA doesn’t set out to recruit male volunteers, but we do achieve a good balance. Volunteers help with quick hits like mock interview days, career insights and enterprise education. We also have a Mentoring Works programme which matches students with mentors from business for six months. For many of the students, it is the first insight they have into the world of large businesses and it really opens their eyes and raises aspirations.
Business volunteers also support the many, many voluntary and community organisations that exist to help young people, and to help boys in particular. This week I went to the launch of this year’s CoRe programme which matches community organisations with support mentors from Macquarie and Slaughter and May. The combined teams identify a well defined project that they will work on for six months aimed at increasing the effectiveness of the community organisation. The programme builds community capacity and resilience.
I saw examples of organisations that engage boys, developing their leadership talent and entry to City careers via an interest in football; two others provided safe spaces where young people can get a different perspective on what their adult lives might be. The launch event was the first meeting between the community organisations and their volunteers – all very carefully matched beforehand. It’s a bit like the first night of Strictly when the dance partners meet each other for the first time – but with less fake tan and sequins. There’s a lot of hard work to come then a celebration evening in November, and I can’t wait to see what has been achieved – and I’ll be looking particularly to see if any of the teams have new insights on how to deal with the trouble with boys.