1st Edition

Boys Don't Try? Rethinking Masculinity in Schools

By Matt Pinkett, Mark Roberts Copyright 2019
    218 Pages
    by Routledge

    218 Pages
    by Routledge

    There is a significant problem in our schools: too many boys are struggling. The list of things to concern teachers is long. Disappointing academic results, a lack of interest in studying, higher exclusion rates, increasing mental health issues, sexist attitudes, an inability to express emotions... Traditional ideas about masculinity are having a negative impact, not only on males, but females too. In this ground-breaking book, Matt Pinkett and Mark Roberts argue that schools must rethink their efforts to get boys back on track.

    Boys Don't Try? examines the research around key topics such as anxiety and achievement, behaviour and bullying, schoolwork and self-esteem. It encourages the reader to reflect on how they define masculinity and consider what we want for boys in our schools. Offering practical quick wins, as well as long-term strategies to help boys become happier and achieve greater academic success, the book: offers ways to avoid problematic behaviour by boys and tips to help teachers address poor behaviour when it happens; highlights key areas of pastoral care that need to be recognised by schools; exposes how popular approaches to "engaging" boys are actually misguided and damaging; details how issues like disadvantage, relationships, violence, peer pressure, and pornography affect boys' perceptions of masculinity and how teachers can challenge these.

    With an easy-to-navigate three-part structure for each chapter, setting out the stories, key research, and practical solutions, this is essential reading for all classroom teachers and school leaders who are keen to ensure male students enjoy the same success as girls.

    1. The Engagement Myth 

    2. Disadvantaged Students 

    3. Peer Pressure 

    4. Mental Health 

    5. Expectations 

    6. Sex and Sexism 

    7. In the Classroom 

    8. Violence 

    9. Relationships 

    10. Other Voices


    Matt Pinkett is a Head of English in Surrey with a personal and professional interest in gender in schools. Matt has written for a number of publications on this topic – and others – and also writes a blog in which he discusses teaching and masculinity.

    Mark Roberts is Assistant Principal at a mixed 11–18 comprehensive school in Devon. Previously, he worked at an inner-city comprehensive for boys in Manchester. Mark writes a blog about teaching English and is also a frequent contributor to TES on subjects including pedagogy, behaviour, leadership, and educational research.

    Foreword by Mary Myatt.

    "What do we want for our boys?" Matt and Mark explode myths, challenge some of our preconceptions and suggest alternative routes to success in our raising and educating of boys. And they don't dodge the most sensitive issues.

    This is a thoughtful, balanced, thoroughly-researched, eminently sensible and practical consideration of how we can support boys to be their best in the classroom and beyond it. It recognises and addresses the pressures boys are under as they make their journey towards manhood. Mark and Matt skilfully demonstrate that if we help boys in schools we will improve education for girls, too.

    Each chapter is structured according to the story, the research, the solutions: this is positive and forward-looking, asking not only "what’s not wanted?" but "what’s wanted instead?" and so focusses on the future rather than only the past and present.

    The authors explain honestly, courageously and with humility how and why they have rethought their own perceptions of "the boy problem" to come to a more nuanced and carefully considered understanding of why boys behave in certain stereotypical ways and how they can be encouraged, motivated and inspired to be their best selves. I learnt a huge amount from this book, and I suggest you will, too.

    - Jill Berry, Former head, now leadership consultant

    This is a fabulous book. It's going to be a must-read for any teacher, leader or parents who have ever had concerns or questions about boys' attitudes to school, to learning, to sex, to each other. Boys Don’t Try? Rethinking Masculinity in Schools is impressively ambitious in its scope, tackling a range of key issues with a brilliant blend of the personal and the analytical with a clear, helpful repeating structure: the story, the research, the solutions. Matt and Mark speak from experience, acknowledging their biases and changes of heart; both have voices of conviction and an absolutely authentic desire to find real answers to difficult problems. The final 'other voices' chapter illustrates this perfectly.

    I loved reading this book and I know thousands of others will too.

    - Tom Sherrington, Author and education consultant

    Having just read Boys Don’t Try? Rethinking Masculinity in Schools by Matt Pinkett and Mark Roberts, I have found myself with a sore neck. Why? Because I found myself nodding in agreement page after page. Like many teachers, at various stages in my career, I have been given really bad advice such as ‘introduce competition into your lessons to engage the boys’ or ‘don’t worry if the boys’ work is a bit untidy, that’s just the way it is with boys’. Matt and Mark address myths like this and use the research evidence, alongside their own experience in schools, to break down many of these widely held beliefs, which serve to do nothing else but compound the problem of gender inequality in schools. Furthermore, they challenge us as educators to reflect on our own gender biases which, whilst uncomfortable at times, is the first step to addressing this problem.

    The world of education has needed a book like this for a long time. Evidence informed, written by practitioners and not pulling any punches. It gets to the heart of a really serious issue that permeates our education system and should be read by anybody who works in a school.

    - Shaun Allison, Author, deputy head, and Director of Durrington Research School

    We desperately need this book – and more like it. In a data-obsessed education system, the statistics are stark: too many boys, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds, are falling behind... In Boys Don’t Try? Matt Pinkett and Mark Roberts directly link boys’ relative educational underachievement to mistaken attempts to aspire to an “outdated, but nonetheless widespread idea” about what it means to be a “real man” and “a brand of masculinity that leaves many boys floundering” – and make no mistake, it is a brand, sold hard yet often unthinkingly, with very real casualties. The message is clear: we have a lot of work to do.

    - Stephanie Keenan, TES

    There is something for everyone here, whether you read this as a classroom teacher, determined to do better for all the students in every class, or as a headteacher more worried about whole-school strategy, vision and ethos. This is a call to action, to a brave new world where boys are nurtured and developed. Without putting the blame on schools for the current situation, the authors are clear about just how much good we can do for society if we can do better with our boys in school.

    - Peter Hall, Schools Week

    The problems identified within this book will be applicable for many schools, and the solutions offered are a fantastic starting point to address many challenging issues to ensure that the opportunities and experiences of all those attending education remain as positive and possible, no matter what your race, gender, religion or cultural background is.

    - Colin Hill, UKEdChat

    I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t think I’d learn much from this book.  I have always felt that helping boys to achieve was something I knew quite a bit about. After all I have been one, I went to an all boys school and I have a teenage son. However, from the first chapter I realised that I had fallen foul of the ‘myths’ on many occasions. The ‘boy problem’ is not a new phenomenon and is cited as a major challenge to the improvement of our education system and society so it is time to think differently and ‘Boys Don’t Try?’ throws down that gauntlet to all of us.

    When you read this book you will find yourself with a furrowed brow regularly as you think back through your own school and life experiences; a good book does that – it makes you think. I haven’t been able to walk past a textbook without noticing all of the gender stereotypes that run through so many of them.

    ‘Boys Don’t Try?’ will have an impact on my thinking for a long time to come and has helped me look at my school through a different lens."

    -Vic Goddard, Principal of Passmores Academy

    As a PGCE student, I was taught about the impact of gendered language on our students, about careful book choices and our own unconscious bias. These lessons stayed with me and helped me to be a better teacher of boys and girls. If these aspects have not been part of your learning as a teacher or a leader, then you need this book.

    The authors explore, in frank and detailed ways, the myths that surround the education of boys and explain how we need to widen our own expectations of boys as well as their cultural capital.  It is uncomfortable to hear of the experiences of some students and teachers which is why this is an important topic.  The key message I take away is that boys need the same as girls and that is great teaching and teachers. I particularly applaud the refusal to accept the stereotypes that diminish both genders which means ditching the engagement strategies that we hope motivate boys to learn and yet only succeed in further limiting both genders.  Instead the book offers teachers, leaders and parents ways to ensure that all students, whatever gender, achieve and exceed. 

    -Vivienne Porritt, Education and Leadership consultant and National Leader of #WomenEd

    'Boy's eh?' Our society appears intent on solving our perennial 'boy problem'. Male stereotypes abound about our troublesome boys, from their school disengagement to their violence fuelled pursuits. Mark and Matt, two well respected school teachers, informed by research evidence and personal insights, smash through the simplistic stereotypes and offer a compelling and nuanced exploration of boys, masculinity and much more. This is a highly recommended read for teachers and more.'

    -Alex Quigley, author of Closing the Vocabulary Gap, The Confident Teacher and Teach Now! English

    In their new book Boys Don’t Try? Rethinking Masculinity in Schools, English teachers Matt Pinkett and Mark Roberts unpack a range of reasons why boys are struggling in school. They also debunk some common myths surrounding engagement and behaviour management and provide useful alternatives for the future. Most importantly, they contend that the “problem” with boys is deeply rooted in a toxic idea of masculinity.

    - Wade Zaglas, Education Review

    Undoubtedly, this text will be most useful for teachers and school leaders seeking ways in which they can challenge forms of non-tender masculinity and promote a more inclusive culture within their own schools. However, within Boys Don’t Try? Pinkett and Roberts provide a broad, accessible introduction to the challenges that face young men in their efforts to become educationally successful and, as such, will be a useful addition to the bookshelves of educational practitioners and researchers alike.

    - Alex Blower, Boyhood Studies

    "This is an invigorating call to break out of gender stereotyping and fight hard for every learner to go as far and fast as they can."

    - Neil Jones, NACE