What's all this then?

I tweet too much. So I needed somewhere else to start storing all the words. This is it. Think of it as the external hard drive for my thoughts.

I don't have an obesssion, a dream, a fixation or a hook, so don't be expecting a focus here. It's like great big lumps of my twitterings. You may see teaching stuff, rants, maternal anxiety and occasional sojourns away from reality.

Anyway, I like a nice chat so we should talk. By we, I of course mean me...

Friday, 24 September 2010

Boys, Girls, Marshmallows.

I don’t often watch school programmes on the telly, because they tend to make me shouty and sweary. Waterloo Road is an obvious exception because, well, have you seen it? Then you know.

However, I found myself sucked into Gareth Malone’s Dangerous School for Boys which assumed that boys need more physical exercise, and specialised teaching to help them bridge the literacy gap with girls. The programme showed the best and the worst of primary education. Unfortunately for the teaching profession, the best came from a preternaturally youthful choirmaster and the worst came from pessimistic teachers.

Gareth’s teaching was vibrant. Writing their own musical, decorating the library, choosing books: it was all just fantastic. And I found myself feeling sorry for the girls. Presumably they were stuck in the classroom with their regular lessons while the boys toasted marshmallows and played Ladders (I love Ladders).

I know the programme was about closing the gap between boys and girls. I know the girls were achieving more, in terms of reading ages and testing, but does this mean that teaching was meeting the girls’ needs but not the boys'? I’m not sure it does.

Girls’ and boys’ brains do not really differ in any notable way. The learning needs of children are really best not categorised by gender. There are obviously societal influences, but primary age children are still at a developmental stage where the biggest influence in their lives is parental. OK, non-reading Dads were highlighted in the programme as an issue, but I can’t believe all the Mums were sitting down with Dostoyevsky of an afternoon. Not when Dinner Date is on.

I don’t think that boys need specialized teaching. What worked for them in this case was participation in an amazing learning experience and literacy made relevant.  This is what all children need, boys and girls.

Yes, the girls tested better but that doesn’t mean that the teaching was doing its job of creating lifelong learners. With boys the effects of poor teaching and an irrelevant curriculum are immediate: low test scores and acting out in class. Working in EBD outreach, our referrals for boys outnumbered girls by about 20 to 1, not because girls experienced no emotional or behavioural problems but because their difficulties didn’t tend to trouble teachers or put them at risk of exclusion. With limited resources, you’ll refer the boy setting fire to his classmates ahead of the girl with an eating disorder, sexual health concerns, depression, or school phobia.

Girls tend to perform acceptably at school in spite of personal difficulties or less than inspiring teaching. But when they get older will they value their education? What will they aspire to? Will they be enthused enough and confident enough to go for the important jobs that make a difference to us all? It’s not till well after the testing stops that we see the impact of poor teaching on girls.

All children deserve an extraordinary education. Every Child A Marshmallow Toaster.


  1. Thank you, I was thinking the same things watching this show, what's happening to the girls? Do they get second rate teaching just because they test better than the boys? Are they being inspired? Or doesn't it matter as long as they behave and make the levels up. I hope they also got to enjoy some of the exciting and stimulating experiences that the boys were offered. I will be shouting Every Child a Marshmallow Toaster at every opportunity!

  2. Thank you Joanne! Glad it wasn't just me.
    Although, I would be a little careful where you shout that if I were you. Not Tesco, for example.

  3. I never watched the show but I'm totally in agreement. When I was at school (back in dark ages) our class were seperated each Monday afternoon. Girls to undertake knitting lessons and the boys for football practice. I felt this totally unfair as I (as a girl) also wanted to play football ... That was considered boys stuff ... Ah! Little did they know the changes that were looming ... Every child a marshmallow toaster indeed!

  4. Thanks Marples!
    What worries me in schools now is not the enforced gender divide for classes like "textiles", but the fact the children still do it to themselves.
    Dd1 came home annoyed the other week because the boys wouldn't let her play football unless she made up a "girls team" and despite the best efforts of Britain's Got Talent, the StreetDance classes are still full of girls.
    There's so much still to be done...


OK, I've stopped talking, your turn...