The Puzzle of Boys’ Educational Decline: A Review of the Evidence

Jennifer Buckingham
18 November 1999 | IA9
The Puzzle of Boys’ Educational Decline: A Review of the Evidence

The declining standard of boys school performance in the last decade is great cause for concern. Although research has attempted to explain this trend, lack of empirical evidence has precluded conclusions to date, and tends to raise more questions than it answers.

The decline is represented in a combination of three notable developments:

  1. deteriorating comparative performance of boys in literacy and English;
  2. improving performance of girls in maths and the physical sciences; and
  3. recent changes in curriculum and assessment that have exacerbated these effects.

A key question is why boy literacy skills and subsequent English performance are inferior and deteriorating. The main factors implicated in the gender gap in English and literacy performance are:

  • biological differences This does not explain why the gender gap is increasing
  • gender biases and expectations This does not shed any light on the deterioration in boys’ English performance, nor does it offer any explanation as to the genesis of these biases.
  • teaching and curricula This does not explain why boys learn differently.
  • socio-economic status It does seem that socio-economic status has the strongest link with boys’ school performance. However, lack of empirical evidence prevents a conclusive assessment.

Although income does play a role, the most important elements are parental education and family stability. How specific attributes of broken families’, such as father-absence, might affect boys more than girls is yet to be established. Whether teaching methods and school curricula differentially disadvantage boys, and, if so, how, are questions yet to be answered.

Access to information held by Departments of Education would be very valuable in addressing these issues. Without it, research possibilities are limited, and the educational outcomes of boys remain uncertain.

Jennifer Buckingham is a research assistant with the Taking Children Seriously program and co-author of State of the Nation 1999: Indicators of a Changing Australia.

Latest Publications

Eight Housing Affordability Myths
Stephen Kirchner
10 July 2014 | IA146

Australians are conflicted in their attitude to this long-run change in real house prices because they are both investors in housing as an asset class and consumers of housing services. This conflicted attitude on the part of the public is reflected in confused public policies followed by Australian governments. Unfortunately, many of the policies pursued by Australian governments in the…

READ MORE
Still Damaging and Disturbing: Australian Child Protection Data and the Need for National Adoption Targets
Jeremy Sammut
16 April 2014 | IA145

In December 2013, the Abbott government announced plans to make it easier for Australian parents to adopt children both locally and from overseas. Acknowledging the official ‘taboo’ on adoption in Australia, Prime Minister Tony Abbott ordered an inter-departmental committee to recommend ways to take adoption out of the ‘too-hard’ basket. The chief barrier to raising the number of local adoptions…

READ MORE
Why Jaydon Can’t Read: A Forum on Fixing Literacy
Jennifer Buckingham, Justine Ferrari, Tom Alegounarias
18 February 2014 | IA144

Many thousands of Australian students have very low levels of literacy after spending four or more years at school. The Spring 2014 issue of the CIS journal Policy contained an article called ‘Why Jaydon Can’t Read: How Ideology Triumphed Over Evidence in Teaching Reading’, which concluded that students were not being provided with the most effective evidence-based reading instruction in…

READ MORE
Independent Charities, Independent Regulators: The Future of Not-for-Profit Regulation
Helen Andrews
06 February 2014 | IA143

The Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission was established by the Gillard government in 2012 with the intended purpose of cutting the red tape faced by Australia’s charities. So far, the regulator has failed to make any significant progress on this goal or on its two other main goals: increasing public trust in charities and improving the quality of regulatory oversight…

READ MORE
The New Silence: Family Breakdown and Child Sexual Abuse
Jeremy Sammut
30 January 2014 | IA142

Despite family breakdown exposing children to greater risk of sexual abuse, the issue receives scant attention in this country. Child sexual abuse is not fully and frankly discussed because the public discourse is self-censored by politicians, academics, social service organisations, and the media in compliance with politically correct attitudes towards ‘family diversity’—the socially ‘progressive’ and ‘non-judgmental’ fiction that says the…

READ MORE