One of the great things about being a Member of Parliament in a marginal bellwether seat such as the City of Lincoln is the sheer variety of issues that you see and hear, many of which never reach the confines of the Westminster or Whitehall ‘Bubble.’
This is why I am leading a Parliamentary debate today on the educational underperformance of boys and the gender education gap. In a welcome post-Brexit positive Britain embracing the opportunities in the global economy this issue is even more pressing.
The underperformance and education gap is an issue that I have regularly come across, or has been raised with me when visiting local schools, businesses, training providers, universities and colleges in my constituency. I also see its impact when I see young men hanging around when they should be in work, on an Apprenticeship or at university or college. It is also clear to me that this issue crosses all social classes, geographical areas and ethnic groups. It is not just a “working class” issue.
The gap in attainment is stark, starts young and is not new. At Key Stage 2 (in old money that is 11 years of age) the gap is six percentage points. For GCSEs, the gap for five A*-C including England and Maths is nine percentage points in England and over seven in the other three nations of the United Kingdom. In my County of Lincolnshire the gap is ten. At the age of 16, girls have been ahead of boys since the mid-eighties. Its impact is also stark.
Currently 30,000 fewer boys than girls are Apprentices, 60,000 fewer now go to university every year (460,000 fewer over the past decade) and more young men who are Not In Education Employment or Training (NEETs) are unemployed. Fewer young men are joining nearly all of the professions every year.
So what to do?
We need to make sure schools and colleges are boy-friendly through inspiring them, helping them see what they can achieve and also being positive about masculinity. It is OK for boys to like cars, building sites and generally getting dirty.
Boys want to be young men, and young men want to be grown men – we should celebrate and nurture this, not try and make boys something they are not. More male teachers would certainly help.
We should introduce three, five and seven year Apprenticeships that are both the equivalent to degrees and vocational for those who are not as academically minded. These of course should be available to girls as well.
We need to think differently. It works in Germany and elsewhere, why not here? Life-long learning is valued and works in Germany and in the USA. In this global race we in the UK are not even in the top set.
Lastly, we need Government and the education sector as a whole to step up to the plate. This is why I believe the Government needs to set up an Implementation Taskforce to find solutions and then implement them.
There has been much focus, policy and leadership on matters such as the lack of women on Boards and the gender pay gap. There is an unarguable case now for the same focus on this matter. If the gender education gap was the other way round, and these statistics were reversed, I am sure there would not have been three decades of inaction.
This gap is a very serious One Nation issue affecting boys, their families, communities, businesses and our Country as a whole – even more of an issue now as we build a welcome post Brexit positive Britain in a global economy.
I also have wider concerns around social cohesion and social mobility. Our boys’ underperformance at school deserves national attention and action. Today, Parliament now has the opportunity to start. They, their teachers, parents and our nation should expect nothing less.