‘Dangerous Schools for Boys’: Winning Hearts and Minds – Symposium

24–25 May 2012

In hosting a Dangerous Schools for Boys symposium the Thomas More Institute sought to bring together over two days education professionals as well as other specialists and interested parties to discuss the widespread, and indeed widely acknowledged, disengagement of pre-adolescent and adolescent boys from formal school education.

The underachievement of boys, by almost every form of measurement, has begun in recent years to attract interest in the media and elsewhere. Detailed studies have pointed to a significant gender gap in education, described by a Chief Inspector of Schools as ‘one of the most disturbing problems facing the education system’.

Much of the debate has focused on matters strictly pedagogical and even scientific. Recent discoveries in neuroscience that highlight cognitive differences irreducible to social conditioning alone appear, for example, to support the view that boys and girls learn differently.

Meanwhile, the important notion of ‘school culture’ has received relatively little attention. Such a culture is difficult to define but it certainly arises in good measure from the interplay of beliefs and attitudes shared by members of the school community (above all, parents), of the relationships in place between those members, and of the institution’s organisational characteristics. There is general agreement among those who have studied school culture that it can have a significant impact – by no means always beneficial – on pupils’ achievement, and that while it is difficult to establish it is even harder to change. It may be conceived as the heart or soul of a school; in a sense, its deepest identity.

The subject is, of course, dauntingly large. Therefore, rather than examining notions of school culture in the round, Dangerous Schools for Boys focused on five discrete (or grouped sets of) influences affecting it: lessons to be drawn from gang culture; changing attitudes to masculinity in society at large, and, with this, the Arts; the climate within the classroom; the escapism of virtual reality; and factors in character formation.

The Symposium was fully participatory, and all contributed as panel speakers, qualified discussants, or chairs of sessions. There was no passive ‘audience’. Speakers had only fifteen-minute sessions in which to make their points. After oral presentations the discussion, moderated by a qualified Chair of session, was thrown open to all around the table.

The ‘Chatham House Rule’ [‘Participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant may be revealed’] was observed to allow for frank exchange and exploration.

Welcome and Introductory Remarks

Andrew Hegarty

Andrew Hegarty has been Director of the Thomas More Institute since its inception in 2004, and actively involved in organising a number of conferences and symposia for it. He read History at Oxford and later obtained a D.Phil. there. He taught for five years at secondary level in Oxfordshire, and has served as Warden of an international hall of residence for students. His academic speciality lies in the history of universities in which he has published a book and collaborated on another, as well as producing articles and conference papers.

1st Session: Gang Culture, Friendship and Mentoring

What Lessons Can Schools Learn from the Popularity of Gang Culture among Young Men?

Francis Davis: Chair

Francis Davis is advisor to a number of local authority Chief Executives and has recently been working at the Cabinet Office as an advisor on Cities Policy. He was previously Policy Advisor to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Francis has been an inner city community worker and school governor working with young people and is currently supporting an initiative of a large North West Housing association seeking to send young people of talent from its areas of activity to Eton, alongside developing new approaches to apprenticeship.

Ian Joseph: From East End to Eton: Urban Culture and the Classroom

Ian Joseph is a Visiting Research Fellow in the School of Law and Social Sciences, University of East London. He initially trained as a teacher but over the past 25 years has worked in the voluntary and public sectors. He has undertaken commissioned research projects for a wide range of local and national government agencies, universities and community organisations.

Ray Lewis: Context or Character: The Great Debate in Educational Outcomes

Ray Lewisis a clergyman, community activist and social entrepreneur. He set up the Phoenix Project in 1995 for teenagers with drug problems. In 2001 he was prison service manager of a young offenders’ institute. A year later he established the award-winning Eastside Young Leaders’ Academy, an educational project with a strong mentoring component. In 2003 EYLA received the Bernie Grant Civic Award. In 2007 (and again in 2011) Ray was named one of London’s 1000 most influential people (Evening Standard). Later that year Eastside won The Guardian Charity Award.  In July 2011 Ray received an award for Excellence in Education. Having served as a Deputy Mayor for London he is now the Mayor’s mentoring ambassador.He continues to develop the Young Leaders’ Academy concept across London and the UK.

Tony Little: Boys’ Boarding Schools: a Virtuous Gang Culture?

Tony Little has been Head Master of Eton College since 2002.  He is an English teacher who taught at Tonbridge and Brentwood (where he was Head of Department and a boarding housemaster) before becoming Headmaster of Chigwell School in 1989.  He was appointed Headmaster of Oakham School, a co-educational boarding and day school, in 1996.

2nd Session: Masculinity, Culture and the Arts

In the face of the contemporary assault on masculinity and its values, how can schools restore confidence and a sense of purpose to young men?

Andrew Hegarty: Chair

[see above – ‘Welcome & Introductory Remarks’ – for short biographical details]

Michael Moore: How the New Rhetoric can Help Today’s Boys

Michael Moore has been refining his practice of Integrity Psychology since the 1980s, and addressing obstacles to learning and development. Informed by the work of Etienne Gilson, George Kelly and Neuro-Linguistic Programming, his ideas have been presented to the military, schools and boys clubs. For the past five years he has been a Foundation Governor of a primary school.

Ciarán Clarke: Challenging Teenagers? – The Art of Manliness

Ciarán Clarke MB, MRCPsych, PgDipCBT is a Consultant Child and Adolescent psychiatrist working in Limerick, Ireland. His special interests are autism and operant-conditioning as applied to child behaviour. His major research interest at present is evidence-based health care in ADHD.

 Sue Horner: Boys, Curriculum, Culture and the Arts

Sue Horner is a consultant in arts and education policy, working with the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Globe Theatre and the UK government among others. After fourteen years spent teaching in secondary schools, she worked as a Local Education Authority advisor and then spent eighteen years in national policy roles culminating in her appointment as Director of Curriculum at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, with responsibility for the national curriculum and its assessment, as well asregulation of GCSEs and A Levels.  Sue is the author of many publications on the teaching of English, including the influential report on boys’ achievement, Can Do Better.

3rd Session: The Culture of the Classroom

How can teachers create an atmosphere in which boys can flourish?

Prof. James Arthur: Chair

James Arthur is Head of School, Professor of Education and Professor of Civic Engagement in the University of Birmingham. He is also Head of the Jubilee Centre for Character Education and Values. He is editor of the British Journal of Educational Studies and Director of Citized. He has written widely on education, and particularly on citizenship, communitarianism, civic engagement and religion.

Sara Birru: Walking the Talk: Language Acquisition and Behaviour

Sara Birru is Assistant Headteacher of New Woodlands School in Lewisham, South London. New Woodlands educates children who have been excluded – or are on the version of exclusion – from other Lewisham schools and is the only school in the UK with ‘the right to innovate’, allowing it to take non-statemented children. Sara manages the primary school, working with social services, educational psychologists, an art/music therapist and speech and language therapists to reintegrate children to mainstream education.

David Levin: Making Boys Welcome in the Classroom

David Levin has been a teacher for over thirty years and a Headmaster for nearly twenty.  He is currently Headmaster of City of London School for Boys, Vice-Chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) and a trustee of the International Boys’ Schools Coalition.  A fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, David is a former Chairman of HMC and was a Ministerial Adviser as part of the ‘London Schools’ Challenge’. As well as being a school governor, he is UK Adviser for Education Africa.

Tony Sewell: Knowledge as Identity: Why Intellectual Resilience is Important for Boys

Tony Sewell began his career as a London teacher. He spent many years as a teacher trainer at Kingston and Leeds universities and has published widely on boys’ experience in education. He has also been an international consultant in education for, among others, the World Bank and Commonwealth Secretariat. He works in both the UK and Caribbean and helped set up the Science, Maths and Information Technology Centre in the department of education at Jamaica’s University of the West Indies. Formerly a trustee of the National Museums of Science and Industry, he makes frequent appearances in national broadcast and print media, including BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions?, BBC2’s flagship current affairs programme Newsnight, The Guardian and theDaily Mail.  Tony has been appointed by Mayor Boris Johnson to lead his inquiry into Education in London. He is also chair of the charity Generating Genius, which delivers many inner-city black boys to our top Universities to study Science and Technology subjects.

4th Session: A Life Well Lived

What can schools do to help boys develop into the best version of themselves?

Robert Teague: Chair

Robert Teague has taught for over fifteen years in both the independent and the maintained sectors of the English education system, mainly in boys’ schools.  He is currently Assistant Headteacher, Wallington County Grammar School, and has a particular interest in curriculum innovation, having co-written the Cambridge Pre-U specifications in Mathematics and Further Mathematics. He has been involved in setting up two new schools and is currently helping an educational trust with plans for a third.  He is a Senior Research Associate of the Thomas More Institute.

Xavier Bosch: Prevention Rather than Cure: Avoiding NEET through Mentoring

Xavier Bosch is a graduate of the London School of Economics and a Chartered Accountant. He has been since 1997 Chief Executive of ReachOut!, a mentoring charity set up in Manchester during 1994. It is currently managing 500 volunteers in London and Manchester who offer mentoring to children and young people aged 8 to 18.

Oskari Juurikkala: The Paradox of Freedom: Building Character in the 21st Century

Oskari Juurikkala is a lawyer-economist trained also in philosophy. The son of a prominent educationalist in Finland, he has been actively involved in tutoring youth and in coaching virtuous leaders. An LSE alumnus, he presently works as a researcher at the University of Helsinki law department, where his interests include financial regulation and the relationship between law, social norms and virtues.

James Arthur: The Good Life: Competence, Character and Human Flourishing

[see above – 3rd Session Chair – for short biographical details]

5th Session: Back to Reality

Can schools help boys escape virtual reality?

 Peter Adams:  Chair

Peter Adams has been with the Thomas More Institute from the outset. He has long-standing interests in philosophy of science and education. After studying Theoretical Physics at Oxford he worked on the particle accelerator at the Rutherford Laboratory. He later spent eight years in computer science research at QMC, London, and then in IT-related fields. Over the last fifteen years he has been involved in starting two schools, and is currently working on a third. He is co-editor of Is Science Compatible with Free Will?, a book to be published this autumn by Springer US.

 Robert Mazelanik & Paweł Mazanka (joint presentation):  Digital Maturity: How Schools can Help Boys to become Men in the Digital Era

Robert Mazelanik is a Polish educator who is spending the academic year 2011–12 at the Oxford University Department of Educational Studies investigating research methodologies. He was co-founder and Headmaster from 2004 until 2011 of the first boys’ primary school in Poland. He is a Lecturer at the Pedagogical University of Cracow, and has co-authored a Report on the Intellectual Capital of Poland for the Board of Strategic Advisors to the Polish Prime Minister. He is currently a Senior Research Associate of the Thomas More Institute.

PawełMazanka is a Polish graduate in philosophy. Since 2005 he has been working as a teacher and preceptor of boys as well as a parental consultant. From 2006 to date he has been Deputy Headmaster of the first boys’ only school (primary and secondary) to be established in Poland: ‘Żagle-STERNIK’.

 Tim Golden: Computers and the Young Man: from Consumer to Producer

Tim Golden is a professional computer programmer who has spent over twenty years working with boys and young men in youth clubs in south and west London. He is the editor of the goodtoread.org website, a resource for parents and educators seeking information on books for young people. For several years he has been an active contributor to the Python programming language, a general-purpose language designed to be easy to pick up.