Conference to look at boys’ under-achievement, 03 May 2007

Pete Henshaw

The under-achievement of boys at school has perplexed the education world for years.

In March this year education secretary Alan Johnson called for a “boys’ bookshelf” in every secondary school library to encourage boys to read more, while last month Oxford academic Professor Ann Buchanan blamed the government’s failure to instil a sports culture in schools for the educational under-achievement of boys.

Now MA Education, the publisher of SecEd, is adding its weight to the debate by holding a conference on the issue.Entitled “Educating boys: triumph not trouble”, the two-day conference will examine the many theories behind the problem of boys lagging behind girls at school and offer a range of practical strategies.

The conference, to be held at London’s City University on June 4 and 5, will be chaired by childcare expert and author Karen Sullivan. It will also feature leading figures in education, including Graham Able, master of Dulwich College, education consultant and author Gary Wilson, and Dr Cheron Byfield, director of the National Black Boys Can Association. Dr Carolyn Jackson, a senior lecturer from Lancaster University’s department of educational research, will discuss “laddish” behaviour at school while Ryan Robson, chairman of the Educational Failure Working Group, part of the Conservatives’ Social Justice Policy Group, will make a keynote speech.

Dr Blye Frank, the distinguished director of medical education at Canada’s Dalhousie University, will talk about recent research in the field and also look at the health concerns of boys and young men. “The investigation of boys’ and girls’ achievement in schools is a very important issue,” Dr Frank told SecEd. “But in exploring the concern in the population of boys and young men, it is critical to remember that boys are not all the same and that gender intersects with a number of other factors – class, race, ethnicity, sexuality, culture and so on. “A shift to asking which boys are under-achieving will provide educators with a much better picture of boys’ achievement and allow for the development of appropriate policy and for the implementation of strategies and programmes to meet the needs of boys.”

For details of the conference, email