Jack Hickey is Chairman Of Leicester Conservatives, ran as a Parliamentary candidate in last year's general election and is currently a Year 6 Primary school teacher. Jack also serves on the CES Committee as Primary education advisor.
As I write this piece we currently have an epidemic of a lack of males in primary schools. Why such strong words? It is because our young men are entering a frightening new age. The role of men in society is changing. With many young boys lost without direction, there has never been a greater need for strong male role models to guide our lost boys.
Boys' underachievement in schools 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.
This is a worrying trend which seems only to get worse for boys.
Women in the UK are now 35% more likely than men to go to university and this gap widens every year. Gone are the days when men could resort to factories or lots of high level apprenticeships. It seems that a requisite of a high paying job today is obtaining a degree.
If recent trends continue being born a girl in 2016 will mean you are 75% more likely to go to university than a boy.
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.
Boys' underachievement 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 happening that is preventing our boys from academic achievement? What is driving them to the depths of despair whereby they feel as if they no longer want to be on this Earth? And finally what can we do about it?
As a male teacher in year 6 I am part of a small group of males which one in the Primary sector. I am one of the 15% of males that work in primary schools. Research offers that as well as having just 15% total males in the Primary sector, some 1 in 4 schools have no male teacher at all.
If you’re a young male from a single-parent family in a low socio-economical area, your chances of knowing what’s expected of a man are slim. On whom do you aspire to be like?
Take a look at 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.
The proposed solutions
I propose three solutions to combat the crisis of masculinity and prevent a generation of boys growing up in limbo, feeling as if society has no place for them.
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 centuries of classroom experience. Now 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. I suggest they go one further by scrapping them altogether after five years’ 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, 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 50% exodus we currently have after 5 years.
The good thing about this proposal is not that we will suddenly have an influx of highly skilled males ready to teach, but that more males will apply to do so and therefore go through the correct process. That moves me onto another point on teacher recruitment. We need to take away more powers from PGCE’s. 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 etc.?
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 to whom I am the only male in their lives that has stuck around, never let them down and always been there for a chat.
The second solution I offer is through curriculum design. A knowledge rich curriculum is not only appealing to intellectual teachers who seek to share the best of what has been with their students and stretch their minds to contemplate problems that have been conjectured for aeons but 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, the uses of colons, parenthesis, fronted adverbials that they could then include it in their work independently. This focus on knowledge is supported by science. Cognitive scientists (that’s measurable not casual like psychology and sociology) shows 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 essences of metaphors. This is supported by cognitive scientist Herbert Simon who argues that there are no transferable skills, 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 1 child whilst studying history. How on earth is an 11 year old is meant to know how another 11 year old felt more than fifty years ago? They can however explore the causes of World War 1 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.”
To our children that have a good family set up and a strong male role model, they will benefit from such loving relationships. They will also no doubt extend their cultural capital with rich knowledge filled conversations at home and about. 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 to ensure that teaching is considered a viable option to young men. It is our duty as educationalist to ensure the stigma attached to men working with children is quickly over shadowed 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