Edfest: Wilson

Gary Wilson is speaking about breaking through barriers to boys’ achievement.

I’m late. I hear that boys start the stray from education in around year 8.

In 1993 he started to work with the parents. There was an 18% achievement gap in GCSE (today’s average is 9%). He arranged a meeting: 77 mums, 5 dads. Some of the mums said they were still packing their sons’ bags at the age of 15 or 16. More girls join the library; the Kindle adverts have more girls than boys in. We perpetuate it!

Gary identified peer cadets low down the school who are capable of dragging the whole cohort down, because in some schools, it’s this group of boys in year ten that run the whole place. Peer pressure is one of the biggest barriers to boys’ achievement: not just how and when and why to work, but what sort of boys they can be. He uses his peer cadets as role models: he sends them down to primary school to show them how to make pancakes, rather than coaching in sport.

When Gary started this he was very successful and he was recruited by the LA to manage boys’ achievement across the whole authority. At this point he said he saw an advertising campaign in BHS with “lazy and proud of it” t shirts; he had to take it to a government level to get it removed. Stereotyping is exceptionally damaging in this case. Labels stick. He launched his own positive advertising campaign. He wanted to get the boys in the right emotional frame of mind for learning, so he introduced peer massage: positive physical contact is something that some of these boys never experience at home. Breathing exercises. Self belief exercises. Boys need more praise and attention because they’re so used to getting negative attention from a very young age. Girls use a lot more language in their play, which puts boys back from the start.

His examples of negative stereotype reinforcement are relentless and I start to goggle at the scale of what we are up against. Scary, but lots of food for thought here.

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