Sociological Aspect of Boys Underachievement and Lower Success in Education

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The underachievement of boys within the education system has been an ongoing controversial matter. Ever since the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE’s) had been introduced in the 1980’s, there was a clear division between boys and girls according to the overall GCSE level’s as girls fell behind boys and girls were deemed as unlikely to obtain one or more A-Levels and to progress into higher education (Connolly, 2004). Coming into the next decade of the 1990’s a major change occurred resulting into girls outperforming boys’ in all aspects of education at different levels in GCSE’s and obtaining 2 or more A-levels than boys. Boy’s underachievement then became a major concern within the education system. Lindsay and Muijs (2006) suggests that many debates surrounding the topic on GCSE boys’ underachievement’s entails that there are many factors in which contribute to the underachievement of boys within education. The level of concern regarding the underachievement of boys has evolved from “some boy’s underachieving” to a now general focus on “boys’ underachievement” which is why this debated topic has become a major challenge to the education system. Collins (2017) identified several reasoning’s behind the underachievement of boys’ such as low expectations of males, the lack of male employment, the male anti-learning subculture and many more reason’s.

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Recent research indicates that girls are still outperforming boys and boys are emerging as underachievers, even in subjects where it is believed to be ‘fit for the man’ such as sciences and computing (Moss, 2017). However, the relationship between gender and attainment is very complex as it is not always the same as research shows that males perform better than females in GCSE maths. Hence the importance of understanding the reasons behind the different levels of achievements. In this piece of assignment we will be taking a closer look into the reasoning’s and forming explanations on the underachievement amongst boys, we will be looking at how males are presented within society and how social scientists deem boys’ to have the potential of becoming dropouts which could possibly be a cause of underachievement in boys GCSE’s (Hollingworth, 2015). Other factors will be introduced and explained through this assignment. Laddish Subculture’s One popular explanation as to why boys underachieve in their GCSE’s is due to the ‘Laddish Culture’ where they show behaviours such as gaining respect from their fellow peers, disrupting the class and demonstrating a ‘macho’ character which tends to form groups of boys creating an anti-learning subculture. This then of course leads to boys underachieving as they are too focused on these behaviours. The increase in ‘laddish subcultures’ has led to the increase of boys’ underachievement, these laddish cultures are usually presented within schools and an anti-school subculture is adopted by boys in order to demonstrate their masculinity. Jenks (2004) suggests that the laddish subcultures are mainly w/c, the reasoning for this is because it was believed that pro-school w/c boys were most likely to be branded as ‘gay’ and often harassed if they showed or appeared as a ‘nerd’. From looking at this, we are able to see how and why boys’ may tend to become anti-school in order to portray their masculinity so that they can avoid getting bullied. The ideology around ‘laddish’ subcultures is that certain behaviours and actions are either deemed as ‘uncool’ or ‘unmanly’ whilst other behaviours show dominance and superiority.

For example, if a student was working hard, or doing as they are told they would most likely be viewed as someone who is uncool, therefore resulting into the student being viewed as unpopular which usually led to them being harassed or even bullied. Being accepted by one’s peers in school is an important thing for youths as it allows them to feel as though they are part of another family which is why peer acceptance is a crucial element in a child’s life. According to Hollingworth (2015), a majority of working class boys would be involved in these types of behaviours which then leads them to create an anti-school subculture. The reason for their behaviours were due to the boys trying to seek recognition and respect by being mischievous as working class boys were rejected by middle class school values. This shows us that social acceptance could possibly be argued as too much for boys’ which pushes them to focus on the wrong things such as whether or not they’re being accepted by their peers and if not, what consequences they may have to deal with after, this explanation can possibly be one of the many possible reasons as to why boys are underachieving in GCSE’S. Griffin (2000) argued about the role in which The Hidden Curriculum plays when it comes to forming subcultures within schools. The Hidden Curriculum is based on un-planned and unintended lessons in hopes that the students take in information from lessons that may or may not be a part of the formal course of study (Gatto, 2002). Griffin (2002) believed that ‘hidden’ messages were encoded within lesson’s which showed what appropriate masculine and feminine behaviour is. In simpler terms, he suggests that the hidden curriculum teaches pupils what behaviour is acceptable for their gender and this is known to happen through teacher labelling. Teacher labelling is when a teacher labels a student either positively meaning the teacher view the pupil as bright, hardworking and focused, whilst the teacher could also label the student negatively by labelling them as lazy, distracted and less capable. Judgements formed by teachers against students are formed overtime based on their behaviour during lessons, their previous school reports, attitude to learning etc. By a teacher labelling a student this can cause an effect on the student’s construction and development of their own self as they develop. For example, if a teacher labelled a student because they are always attentive in class and get the work done this would mean that the student will have a positive mind-set because higher expectations have been set for them. This also enables the student to join pro-school subculture which allows those student to academically achieve and achieve higher GCSE results. However, when a student is negatively labelled by a teacher, the teacher will set low expectations for that student which would mean that the student would not have the opportunity to be or part take in anything involving higher sets, this evidently leads to the student underperforming and achieving average to bad GCSE grades. This then leads to students forming subcultures within schools. Therefore, if teachers labels boys’ as less likely to achieve in comparison to girls, this will end up being the case. A valid criticism of this is the fact that teacher labelling can work in two ways, either the student will live up to what they have been labelled as or they will aim to prove their teacher wrong by rebelling against their label (Timperley et al., 2008)

Changes in Male Roles

The change of male roles over the years is another explanation into understanding the underachievement of boys’ in GCSE. The traditional ideology of the ‘Man’ is that males play the dominate role within society and were considered the bread-winners of the family. The ‘Father’ played a vital role in a family as they had to work harder than their wives by ensuring they are financially stable as well as the father demanding respect and obedience from their children (Rey, 2014). During these times, this was when boys’ learnt to be men from their fathers, whilst girls learnt to want that type of man for boyfriends and husbands. Over the past years there has been a consistent change in roles for men as equality is being promoted in our everyday lives and a lot of work has been put in for the progression of women, as a result of this more females tend to stay in education and also challenge themselves to take courses which were deemed ‘fit for the man’ such as sciences, computing, physical education etc. In today’s society the role of the man has changed, as we are currently living in a society where lone parenting is accepted and is becoming very popular especially lone parent families being headed mainly by women (Lamb and Sagi, 2014). It is believed that lone parent families where the mother is usually the head causes a lack of masculine role models to be presented to their sons, as a result of this, this can affect their sons’ personal development as there is no father figure to look up to. Lindsey (2015) suggests that lone parent families, where the mother is the head, fail to socialise boys and therefore leads to boys struggling socially, as a result of this boys’ tend to obtain a lack of qualifications as the daughters are motivated by their mothers to study harder and push for more. This suggests that within mother-headed lone parent families, the sons’ are most likely to struggle socially due to the lack of masculine role models in the household.

Forrest (2016) argues that mother-headed lone parent families usually come from a working class background and by the sons’ growing up without a father figure this can threaten the traditional working class identities such as the man being the bread winner of the family etc. This can suggest that there is a confusion and uncertainty on the traditional gender roles, as in today’s society there are women who work as doctors and engineers. This can also suggest that since there is a confusion and uncertainty on the traditional roles this could possibly link to the underachievement in boys’ GCSE. Changes in the Job Market As stated above, changes to traditional gender roles have been apparent due to the changes in the job market as women now receive the same equal pay as men, and jobs which were considered to be ‘fit for a man’ are taken up by females. A factor contributing to the underachievement of boys’ is that most jobs require skills such as interpersonal and social skills, especially jobs which are in the service sector. Those skills are not traits which are considered to be a part of the traditional working class identity and therefore those who show skills such as those in a job interview are more likely to get the job as opposed to the working class man. Hillman and Robinson (2016) argues that this type of future disappointment can possibly lead to the underachievement of boys’ as this can affect their motivation to put in effort into their qualifications as they believe those kind of jobs which require social and interpersonal skills are poorly suited for them. Boys are less likely to see the value of employment and therefore also of qualification. Biological Explanation Silva et al. (2015) states that males do not mature as fast as females due to females developing earlier and faster in certain cognitive and emotional areas. Since females have the tendency to optimise brain connectivity quicker than males, females have a better chance of survival in their environment.

An example of this would be girls outperforming boys in the 11 plus exams (these exams determine whether a pupil is getting into a secondary school or entry for gramma school), this shows that girls have been outperforming boys at such a young age. Bartlett and Burton (2016) argue that educational underachievement within boys is due to the difference in natural aptitudes for boys as research shows that boys’ have the tendency to fall behind girls in language proficiency. Verbal language proficiency also known as linguistic proficiency refers to an individual’s ability to speak or perform in a language for a variety of purposes such as listening, reading and writing (Cummins, 2014). Girls on the other hand fall behind boy in terms of visual spatial perception, spatial perception is the mental ability to manipulate 2D and 3D figures quickly and accurately (Zhang, 2016). Although, there is little research to prove these accusations as Zhang (2016) believe that these are ‘exaggerated’ accusations due to the belief that the measures of proficiency could possibly be result of different education being received by boys and girls. This simply means that boys and girls within education get taught differently, therefore they may develop different spatial and verbal proficiencies. Feminization of schools and Role Models The final explanation into the reasoning’s behind GCSE boys’ underachievement is the changes to female attitudes as well as feminization within education. According to Loper (2016) education has become ‘feminised’, this means that schools are not catering to boys’ in a sense that schools do not nurture ‘masculine’ traits such as leadership and competiveness. Instead, in most schools qualities which are associated with femininity such as being attentive in class and systematic working. Loper (2016) argues that coursework plays a major issue in academic achievement within the genders as outdoor adventure and final exams should be emphasised in the curriculum.

Research conducted by Loper (2017) suggests that girl’s attitudes have changed over the years as a study conducted by Sue Sharp in 1972 focused on changing the attitudes of females within a secondary school. Sharp started by studying a group of secondary school girls and asking them what they considered to be important in their lives to which the girls replied ‘Marriage, husbands and children’. Sharp then conducted the research again in 1991 and found the responses were different to when the research was first conducted, the replies of the girls were now saying ‘Being finically stable, independent and having a good job’. This shows us that girls are now confident within society and shows that they work harder than men in order to achieve their own personal goals. This also shows us that boys’ may be lacking in confidence which could be due to the change in the job market as there is a rise in ‘feminine’ jobs as opposed to ‘masculine jobs. This can have a negative impact on boys’ as they do not have sufficient male role models in order to boost their confidence. However, Barber (1996) argues that boys’ are overconfident and he showed that boys’ overestimate their ability whilst girls underestimate theirs. Barber conducted research which showed that boys’ thought it would easy to pass an exam without putting in effort, and when they failed they had a tendency of blaming the teacher and feeling undervalued. This can show us another reason as to why boys are underachieving in GCSEs as they set themselves with high expectations but do not put in the effort to get to where they want to be.

The feminisation of teaching was a controversial matter in the nineteenth century. Although in the 21st century, feminisation in education is not a big issue, however it can possibly help us understand the reasoning towards the explanation behind the underachievement of GCSE boys’. More female teachers are presented in primary schools whilst there is only a few men that take up the primary school/secondary school teaching role. This clearly shows that girls have positive role models such as their female teachers to look up too, whilst boys would most likely struggle to identify with female teachers therefore they will find another way to create their own, leading boys’ to create sub-cultures within schools. The idea around there not being enough male teachers within schools can mean that the learning styles and the way in which the pupils are taught are more appropriately suited for a female. A sociological explanation as to why role models have an impact on an individual’s development whether male or female is the ‘Social learning theory’. Albert Bandura (1977) developed the social learning theory which focuses on how behaviour is learnt from the environment through the process of observational learning (Akers and Jennings, 2015). The theory suggests that children learn and understand and gain knowledge through their environment and what they observe from it. Children do not only learn from the objects and things around them but also from their peers, family members, favourite celebrity etc. Children tend to observe behaviours around them including people, those people who are being observed are known as models. Children pay attention to their role models and encode their behaviour which in the end, ends up being copied (Akers and Jennings, 2015). In terms of GCSE boys’ underachievement, boys’ need to be seeing more male teachers so that they also have a ‘model’ to look up to in order not to threaten the masculinity ideology. Conclusion To conclude this assignment we can see that a number of several factors in which contribute into the underachievement of boys’ within education. Although not all factors have been mentioned within the assignment but these factors include: Laddish subcultures, changes in male roles, changes in the job market, genetic explanations, feminisation within education and role models. Although we have found some explanations to GCSE boys’ underachievement, we cannot put it down to one reason only. Changes still need to be made within our society as now it is the area surrounding boys’ underachievement which is now a rise of concern and more work needs to be done to ensure males and females are both achieving successfully academically.

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