School system is failing our young men …

// 17 May 2005

… and the rest of the system is failing our young women.

This is my pet peeve. Some of you may have heard me talk about this at great length before. For those who have, please bear with me whilst I vent.

The exam season is upon us, results season approaches, and last weekend I read the first of those perennial stories about how girls continue to out-perform boys at school, and how the system must be addressed to make doubly sure that boys are allowed to fulfil their potential. Rest assured: more will follow over the summer. They always do.

I should state up front that I don’t think it’s a particularly good thing for young boys to underperform. I think everyone should be encouraged to maximise their potential and (without being an education specialist), I think it’s fair to say that the principle of treating children as individuals and helping them to be the best that they can be should be encouraged at all times.

And here’s the “but”.

I am so unutterably sick of this annual lament, this hand-wringing, this subtext of “look what feminism has done now”. It’s not that the issue doesn’t merit attention by the appropriate professionals; it’s more that the amount of attention it receives is so disproportionate to the problems women face in education and in moving on to the workforce.

Here are the facts: girls do better than boys in school. They have done for several years, in a manner which traverses class and location. This much was reported in last Sunday’s Observer.

Here are some more facts: More girls than boys are accepted to university. More women than men gain first degrees. More of those are top quality degrees.

And yet, despite their demonstrably higher academic achievement, women fall out of the academic field rapidly after graduation, where men flourish. An equal number of women and men go on to achieve higher level degrees, and more men do PhDs.

The world of work treats these high achieving women no better. Despite their better exam results, and despite the fact that more female graduates than male enter the workforce, women are less likely to be managers than hold any other occupation. More women work in (typically) low paid, part time work. Women earn less than men at every skill level – the average full time pay gap is 18%.

So why do we persist in considering female achievement purely through a male lens? Not “isn’t it great that girls do well at school; how can we ensure those achievements are locked in for the rest of their lives?”, but “look how awful it is for boys that girls outperform them; how can we fix this?”

We mustn’t fail any of our children in education, boys or girls. Nobody would consider that a positive thing. But the subtext to all of this is “feminism has gone too far”. The reality is that until women’s achievements in school allow them to gain the positions they deserve in life outside academia, feminism has not gone far enough.

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