Do we need to re-think the way we educate and socialise our boys?

Great article by academics Ann Oakley and Cynthia Cockburn in the Guardian today which really takes a step back from some of the “micro” arguments about the summer’s riots and offers the bleak, big picture assessment that it’s male violence that is the real problem. The article doesn’t really look that hard at education but everything in it carries implications for schools and educators more generally. This paragraph really struck me:

“On the road, men commit 87% of all traffic offences and 81% of speeding offences. More people are killed and injured in road accidents than anywhere else, and Home Office data reveal the bearing of masculinity here too: men are responsible for 97% of dangerous driving offences and 94% of motoring offences causing death or bodily harm. A World Health Organisation report in 2002 on gender and road traffic injuriescautiously broke the code of silence by remarking that masculinity “may be” hazardous to health.”

Driving instructors take note! Perhaps, men need to learn to deal with their aggressive instincts during their driving lessons? As a cyclist in London, I see first-hand everyday the crazy things male drivers, usually because they are being too aggressive.

Oakley and Cockburn briefly examine the situations in schools by saying: “Some of the costs of masculinity are paid individually. Boys are “permanently excluded” from school at a rate four times higher than for girls and attain fewer GCSE and A-levels than girls. But what of the overall costs to society?”

As a teacher, I’ve noticed that some boys, particularly from poorer backgrounds, react to the high stakes testing regime in schools by rebelling. They feel that they’ll never succeed. This current government is intent upon making things even more punitive and “high stakes” than they already are. This “adversarial” approach which is so obsessively competitive is having serious knock-on effects I think; it engenders an attitude of aggressive rebellion in some boys, and doesn’t seem to do girls that much good either. I’ve noticed that they can become extremely anxious even if they conform.

As Oakley and Cockburn show, we’ve “constructed” these masculine role models as a society; they are not “innate”. They are by-products of a vicious, “masculine” culture which has arisen by the inter-play of many economic, social and psychological factors. Many state schools do try and address these issues but without real structural reform, I have a feeling that many men will continue to drive very dangerously, beat too many people up and riot when they’ve got the opportunity.


Published by: @wonderfrancis

Francis Gilbert is a Lecturer in Education at Goldsmiths, University of London, teaching on the PGCE Secondary English programme. He also teaches the Creative Writing module on the MA in Children’s Literature, which is run by Maggie Pitfield and Professor Michael Rosen. Previously, he worked for a quarter of a century in various English state schools teaching English and Media Studies to 11-18 year olds. He has, at times, moonlighted as a journalist, novelist and social commentator. He is the author of ‘Teacher On The Run’, ‘Yob Nation’, ‘Parent Power’, ‘Working The System -- How To Get The Very Best State Education for Your Child’, and a novel about school, ‘The Last Day Of Term’. His first book, ‘I'm A Teacher, Get Me Out Of Here’ was a big hit, becoming a bestseller and being serialised on Radio 4. In his role as an English teacher, he has taught many classic texts over the years and has developed a great many resources to assist readers with understanding, appreciating and responding to them both analytically and creatively. This led him to set up his own small publishing company FGI Publishing ( which has published his study guides as well as a number of books by other authors, including Roger Titcombe’s ‘Learning Matters’ and anthology of creative writing 'The Gold Room'. He is the co-founder, with Melissa Benn and Fiona Millar, of The Local Schools Network,, a blog that celebrates non-selective state schools, and has his own website, He has appeared numerous times on radio and TV, including Newsnight, the Today Programme, Woman’s Hour and the Russell Brand Show. In June 2015, he was awarded a PhD in Creative Writing and Education by Goldsmiths.

Categories Attainment gapTags, , , Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s