5 reasons why our boys are doing so well at GCSE

20 September 2016

We were jumping for joy when we saw how well boys had performed at GCSE this year.  They achieved over 63% A*-C grades, an increase of 20% on last year’s performance!  It is the challenge of every secondary school to make sure boys achieve their potential and nationally the picture is quite worrying – the gender gap is widening.  This year in England, girls pulled ahead of boys by 8.9%, the widest gap since 2002.  Experts were surprised – they thought that the gap would shrink this year because there was a shift towards end-of-course exams  and a down-grading of coursework, both of which traditionally favour boys.  And yet, here at Penryn, boys are only 4.2% behind the girls and they are narrowing the gap!

So why is that? Our staff take every boy as an individual, finding out what works and what will support him in particular, but there are a few things we think have made a difference:

Creating a boy-friendly school –  two years ago Gary Wilson, national expert in raising boys’ achievements  visited to work with us and to talk with many parents.  We have also been hugely supported by behaviour consultant Di Lobbett, who has worked with specific groups of teachers and teaching assistants to engage boys positively in their behaviour choices and attitude to learning.  Thinking about what motivates boys and what makes learning appealing to them is very important to us.

Focus on literacy – boys are often active learners, happy to do and talk but they sometimes struggle to write down in any detail what they know and understand.  Our literacy work in every classroom shows boys how to write like an expert, how to structure exam answers to maximise marks and how to use technical vocabulary to show their understanding.

Extra revision sessions – we used every time slot we could find this year to support boys in their revision!  Before lessons, lunchtimes, after school – we broke down subject into topics and gave them access to teachers with experience and enthusiasm.  We showed them how to use their time, organise their efforts and where to get support online.

Changemakers  – we know boys respond to what other boys do and say – you will have seen that yourself as a parent.  So we are very proud of our Changemakers – a group of boys who are committed to being role models for their peers.  These boys have been amazing – leading student assemblies and staff discussion groups to share the concerns and challenges of being a boy in a GCSE world!   They were invited to share their plan for boys’ achievement at the Cornwall Council School Improvement Conference last October, a daunting occasion they handled superbly.  Currently they are working with local primary schools on literacy leadership, inspiring younger boys with their support and presence.

Individuals in the Spotlight – it’s a powerful moment when every teacher and teaching assistant in a school puts an under-achieving boy ‘under the spotlight’ and asks ‘How can we all help him?’  This is exactly what happens at Penryn!  Senior teacher Beth Laing selects and interviews a boy who is under-achieving according to his tutor and teachers.  She compiles a thorough picture of what is happening in his world and shares her findings and advice with staff in a 5 minute briefing.  We keep our strategies simple and consistent – and boys find it really helps.

At Penryn we take a holistic approach to boys’ achievement.  If you are a parent of a boy, please know that his tutor, Head of House and subject teachers are very interested in talking to you about strategies to ensure your son is heading for GCSE success.