Failing Boys? Issues in Gender and Achievement

Failing Boys? Issues in Gender and Achievement

Failing Boys? Issues in Gender and Achievement

Failing Boys? Issues in Gender and Achievement


Failing Boys? Issues in Gender and Achievement challenges the widespread perception that all boys are underachieving at school. It raises the more important and critical questions of which boys? At what stage of education? And according to what criteria?

The issues surrounding boys' 'underachievement' have been at the centre of public debate about education and the raising of standards in recent years. Media and political responses to the 'problem of boys' have tended to be simplistic, partial, and owe more to 'quick fixes' than investigation and research. Failing Boys? provides a detailed and nuanced 'case study' of the issues in the UK, which will be of international relevance as the moral panic is a globalised one, taking place in diverse countries. The contributors to this book take seriously the issues of boys' 'underachievement' inside and outside school from a critical perspective which draws on the insights of previous feminist studies of education to illuminate the problems associated with the education of boys.

This will be a key text for educators, policy makers, students and teachers of education, sociology, gender studies and cultural studies and others interested in gender and achievement.


Debbie Epstein, Jannette Elwood, Valerie Hey and Janet Maw

During the academic years 1995–6 and 1996–7 we were responsible for organizing a series of seminars held by the Centre for Research and Education on Gender at the University of London Institute of Education, and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. the series, entitled 'Gender and Education: Are Boys Now Underachieving?', was intended to help us and other researchers map the field within the uk context in this area of current interest. As word got out that we were responsible for the seminar series, our telephones began to ring: other academics, local education authority (LEA) administrators, journalists from the broadsheet and tabloid press and from the bbc, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Schools (HMI), teachers, teacher unions, researchers for the Labour Party's education team (then in opposition), all wanted to find out what we had to say about the vexed question of boys' 'underachievement' in schools. One particular phone conversation took place between Debbie Epstein and a senior hmi, phoning from Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education) in the summer of 1995. a young feminist, overhearing Debbie's side of the conversation, remarked on the HMI's concern about boys' 'underachievement', 'Oh, you mean they're not doing better than girls any more, like they should!'

Indeed, much of the public debate about boys and schooling has been conducted in precisely the terms she indicated. in this chapter, we explore the nature of the public debate, its status as a kind of globalized moral panic, and the importance of moving away from simplistic, often alarmist, descriptions and proposed 'solutions' towards hearing more thoughtful, and especially feminist, voices and analyses of the issues involved. It is these voices to which this book gives space. Neither we, in this introductory chapter, nor the other contributors to the book, argue that there are no problems . . .

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