By Craig Rose  

How you can help with the male attainment gap.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve written about the male attainment gap and the need for more male tutors here at Tutor Trust. Last November, for International Men’s Day, I published a blog drawing on my experience as a working-class student and explaining the impact on young boys of positive male role models, or ‘people like us’, in education. The school shutdowns due to Covid-19 have pushed all students even further behind target than we originally expected, the time seems right to take a moment to reflect what this means for our already disadvantaged students.

What is the male attainment gap?

For the past 20 years, boys have consistently underperformed compared to girls when it comes to GCSEs. (I don’t need to tell you this – you hear it every year when the news covers Results Day. Some years it’s framed as a positive (women going on to get better jobs), other years the words are spoken with grave concern). It’s very rare however to hear mainstream media reporting on the long-lasting effects of this gender attainment gap. It isn’t just about GCSE results tables or college admission figures, but the opportunities that are open to these young men in five, ten, or 20 years’ time – jobs rendered inaccessible by exams that are nothing but a distant memory.

In 2016, the Higher Education Policy Institute calculated that, if current trends continue, a boy born in 2016 will be 75% less likely to attend university than a girl. Of course, no-one is saying that everyone needs to go to university – far from it. But if significantly fewer males are choosing this route than females, and even fewer males from working-class backgrounds, it’s hard to imagine anything other than a biased education system that directs students on a path based on their gender and economic background.

Why is addressing this more important than ever?

Right now, on the research front, things have gone quiet. Considering the impact of school closures on all students, I found there to be a frightening lack of consideration of how these disruptions will affect already disadvantaged working-class boys compared to their peers. In February 2020, the MP Ben Bradley spoke out about the issue in a House of Commons debate:

“Only around a third of white working class boys pass their maths and English GCSEs,” he said, “(and) disadvantaged white working class boys are 40 per cent less likely to go into higher education than disadvantaged black boys.

“According to UCAS, only nine per cent of these boys will go to university, compared with around half of the general population.”

There has of course been plenty published on the impact of COVID-19 on education, but most, if not all, of this research speculates about the effects of the virus on attainment gaps in general. In August last year, Teach First claimed that disadvantaged pupils in 2019 were 27% less likely to receive a standard pass in GCSE English and Maths than their non-disadvantaged peers. They went on to explain that:

“The Education Endowment Foundation estimates that all progress towards narrowing the attainment gap over the last decade has been lost since the onset of COVID-19."

An ominous prediction for sure, and one which certainly doesn’t fare well for working-class boys who, as we know by now, consistently underperform compared to their peers. My fear is that the (due and welcome) attention paid to most students’ needs to catch-up may eclipse the much less-publicised issue that we have covered above. Will the fight for an equal education for all be thrown to the side as the government focus on bringing pupils back up to speed and re-establishing the existing status quo?

 

How can you help?

The Tutor Trust is are fully aware of the challenges faced by working-class boys within our schools, and our small-group interventions place us in a unique position to help put a stop to this inequality. In January this year, Matt Bromley (writing for SecEd) cited a 2014 report to suggest that ‘collaborative work in small groups’ could go a long way towards addressing the attainment gap that has been widened by nationwide school closures. That’s where we – and you – come in.

The Tutor Trust is committed to equality – all applicants are welcome, and positions are awarded solely based on merit. We are however especially short on male tutors, and we believe that showing our pupils ‘people like them’ could be the key to broadening their minds and letting them consider avenues that they never before thought possible. For many of our most disadvantaged pupils, a tutor will be their first encounter (other than their class-teachers) with someone who has been to university. It isn’t just about grades – it’s about showing our pupils the variety of options that exist after they have left school. It’s about giving them the chance to dream that they can do something different.