Invisible sons revisited: How boys got forgotten in a debate about boys

Last week, Labour’s shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, (for whom I have a lot of time and respect, incidentally) gave an interview to the Spectator magazine about the underperformance of white working class boys in education. It was a bit of a dog’s breakfast, to be blunt, for reasons I have spelled out in a piece over on

Do please go have a read, but in summary, she got off on the wrong foot by implying the underachievement of boys was a consequence of a focus on girls and ethnic minorities, as if it were a zero sum game, which is a divisive and inaccurate way to think about the issue. It’s also politically clumsy and counter-productive, as it invites a reactionary response from government of purporting to help (white) boys by cutting back on support to girls and BME kids. Marginalised boys and their advocates need all the friends they can get, and it is really not helpful to suggest that providing them with greater support and attention is contrary to the interests of marginalised girls or BME communities. Recognising this is gender-inclusive politics in a nutshell.  [Read more…]

This Boy Can’t – Need, fairness and the funding of education

Cast your minds back a moment, to the ancient days of 2014 and 2015. If you’re living in England you will probably remember the TV adverts, the billboards, the posters on the sides of bus shelters, boldly proclaiming that THIS GIRL CAN.

The campaign was the work of Sport England, a quango funded through the Department of Culture Media and Sport with money from the treasury and the National Lottery. It didn’t come cheap, at £10 million or thereabouts, but by all accounts it was highly successful.

This Girl Can had its critics, of course. Some commentators argued that using the word ‘girl’ was demeaning and suggested that the campaign was overly sexualised and objectified its participants. The complaints, however, were about the delivery, not the intent. The statistics are clear and concerning – far too few women are engaged in sport and fitness activities and everyone agrees that something should be done.

Compare this campaign to the one which ran around the same time, imploring us to READ LIKE A MAN. This campaign, targeted at teenage boys and young adult men, was motivated by concerns about the plummeting literacy attainment among our boys. The campaign championed the benefits of reading for pleasure, showing boys being taken off on wild adventures beyond the stars, discovering new wonders of the world and losing themselves in diverse fiction and non-fiction more vibrant than any videogame. [Read more…]

Sex on Trial: Is This Rape? What BBC3 got wrong and got right.

Based purely on the advance advertising, I was full of trepidation about Sex On Trial: Is This Rape?  – the latest documentary in BBC3’s Breaking the Mould series on gender issues. In the end there were more than a few moments when I felt every fear was about to be confirmed. Anything that turns a realistic alleged rape scenario into drama-tainment-cum-phone-in game show is already walking a very high wire above a sea of sensationalism and exploitation. [Read more…]