Jack Hickey is the Chairman of the City of Leicester Conservatives. Jack is also a primary school teacher in the multi-cultural city of Leicester.
The lack of males in our primary schools is fast becoming an epidemic. With many young boys lost without direction, there has never been a greater emphasis for strong male role models to guide our boys.
Boys' underachievement in school has reached worrying heights when compared to their female counter parts in last year’s GCSE results (often the best national comparison). Female pupils continued to pull ahead of boys at grades A* to C, increasing the gap to 8.9 per cent. Last year’s figures revealed that the gender gap had increased slightly by 0.5 per cent, this with 71.3 per cent of girls’ entries awarded at least a C grade, compared with 62.4 per cent of boys.
Women in the UK are now 35% more likely than men to go to university and this gap widens every year. In 1990, there were 34,000 women graduating from UK universities, compared with 43,000 men. By 2000, the positions were reversed, with 133,000 women graduating, compared with 110,000 men. Last year shows there were almost 300,000 more women in higher education than men.
Being male is now a disadvantage. This is a trend which seems only to get worse for boys.
Boys' underachievement in school, however, is just one aspect of a crisis which affects our young boys. One statistic, which as a teacher worries me most, is that the suicide rate for men is now three and a half times that of women. What is driving them to the depths of despair whereby they feel as if they no longer want to be on this Earth?
Just 15% of primary school teachers are male; some 1 in 4 schools have no male teacher at all. If you’re a young male from a single-parent family, living in a lower socio-economic area, your chances of knowing what’s expected of a man are slim. Whom do you aspire to be like?
There's a recent popular TV programme called 'Love Island'. This is a show whereby individuals spend the majority of their time attempting to 'couple up' with a member of the opposite sex. There is no courtship. There is no chivalric code. Yet we question why we have young adults that still behave like children, driven by primitive urges. The answer: they know no better.
I propose two solutions to prevent a generation of boys growing up in limbo, feeling as if society has no place for them:
1) Teacher recruitment
First we need to actively seek and recruit more male teachers. One such way to do this would be to ensure career progression is evident from the onset and there are ways to progress which do not require decades of classroom experience. We know that teaching is not a profession for those that seek great financial incentives. (In fact, the OECD found that teachers’ salaries were 9-16% lower than other graduates). The Conservative government pledged in their manifesto to freeze loan repayments for teachers during their terms of service. However, I suggest they go one further by scrapping them altogether after five years of service. There are also incentives for teachers in physics or mathematics who are awarded huge bursaries of up to £25,000 pounds. I would suggest a male only bursary for primary school teachers, encouraging the brightest minds to come into the profession. Another strategy to combat a significant worry for the younger generation could be to help with the deposit on a first home. This would see huge interest from those that seek to start families. Individuals that have homes and are more settled in an area are less likely to contribute towards the growing exodus we currently have after 5 years.
We also need to take away power from university-based PGCEs. For too long, they have not provided the correct calibre of teachers that schools have wanted and they are often ideological battle grounds where the burden of bad ideas are passed onto impressionable eager teachers. Dare I mention such previous fads as: Brain Gym, Learning styles, learning to learn...? We should see more funding and power given directly to schools to recruit and train their own teachers. Schools know exactly what they are looking for in their school and what attributes an individual needs to succeed. We need to have more trust in schools to select and train candidates.
By having more males in schools children will naturally have more male role models in which to look up to and emulate. It is worrying that some children could go through their entire formative years at primary school never to have been taught a single thing by a male. I wonder what impression this creates on them for future relationships with men or how many children (I can testament from experience) just want a chat with someone different who they don’t see at home. I know far too many children I am the only male in their lives that has stuck around, never let them down and always been there for a chat.
2) Curriculum design
The second solution I offer is through curriculum design. A knowledge rich curriculum is not only appealing to intellectual teachers seeking to share the best of what has been thought and said with their students; it is also far more exciting for the children. Knowledge is power and it is your duty as an educator to empower your pupils. It is only through a comprehensive and knowledge led curriculum that we can close the 20% gap in vocabulary between the poorest and wealthiest pupils. It is only through abandoning the misconceived “skills” learning objectives that we can enable children to produce their best work. This year I introduced daily grammar lessons for my year 6 class. It was only through acquiring the correct knowledge of the rules of grammar that they could then include it in their work independently. This focus on knowledge is supported by science. Cognitive scientists show that remembering facts isn’t merely regurgitation but is the route to understanding and, eventually, critical thinking. A pupil cannot think critically about Shakespeare if he does not understand prose and the essence of metaphors. This is supported by cognitive scientist Herbert Simon who argues that there are no transferable skills; rather, they are all based upon procedural and substantive schemata. The teacher’s role is not that of a passive individual, nor should they be focused on ensuring all learning is child-centred. You as the teacher are the foundation of knowledge. It is your job to ensure children have a rich and knowledge laden curriculum. They are not wasting time matching cards, working in groups making posters or, heaven forbid, writing diary extracts of how it feels to be a World War I child whilst studying history. How on Earth is an 11 year old meant to know how another 11 year old felt more than fifty years ago? They can however explore the causes of World War I starting with the chain of events of Franz Ferdinand’s assassination. Watch as children’s eyes light up as they recall all the wonderful pieces of information they now know.
We end with the sobering extract from Matthew:
“Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”
Children that have a good family set up and a strong male role model will undoubtedly benefit from such loving relationships. They will also no doubt extend their cultural capital and enjoy rich, knowledge filled conversations at home and abroad. Those that learn to read independently early on want to extend their vocabulary and read a wide range of texts to influence their thoughts. Children from poor and illiterate homes often remain poor and illiterate. Children without a strong male role model grow up not knowing how a man should behave. They start families and perpetuate this cycle. I feel so passionate about ensuring that all children at some stage of their primary education feel a deep connection to a male they can trust and I hope more teachers take up this crucial crusade.
I was fortunate that I was there when a one of my year 6 girls came up to me one break time and asked, “Mr Hickey, why doesn’t my dad love me?”. I was able to intervene early on and I hope she can now trust men in a way she felt she could not before. It is the duty of all school leaders, teacher training providers and career advisors that teaching is considered a viable option to young men. It is our duty as educationalists to ensure the stigma attached to men working with young children is quickly overshadowed by the thrill of transmitting the best ideas that have come to pass to the next generation. Everyone deserves a knowledge rich education. Everyone deserves a man in their life.
Bramley . T , Vidal . C , Vitello , R & S (2015) Gender differences in GCSE. Cambridge Assessment Research Report
Crawford, C., Dearden, L., and Greaves, E. (2013). When you are born matters: evidence for England. IFS Report R80. London: Institute for Fiscal Studies