Letter to the Editor of The Weekend Australian

IBSC Executive Director Tom Batty wrote this letter to the editor of The Weekend Australian in response to and support of the article Boys Still Falling Through the Cracks by Education Editor Natasha Bita published November 25, 2023.


For the editor, The Weekend Australian, in response to and support of the article Boys Still Falling Through the Cracks by Education Editor Natasha Bita in the Inquirer section of your publication, 25-26 November 2023.

I write having spent 36 years as a teacher and in leadership roles in schools across government, Catholic and independent sectors in New Zealand, Australia and the UK. Whilst I was educated,  trained and began my career in coeducational environments, I have spent 33 years involved with boys’ schools. Since finishing last year as principal of a large boys’ school, I have held the role of Executive Director of the International Boys’ Schools Coalition (IBSC), an association based out of the US, which I had previously served as board member and chair. The IBSC has some 260 members across the globe spanning independent, Catholic and government sectors.

The roots of, and therefore solutions to, the very real challenges faced by boys and young men articulated in this article are steeped less in the transitory and more in ongoing care — and how we care for children is confused by conceptions of gender, often leaving girls restricted and boys with little or no framework.

The means of advancement rests with education and relational practice. It’s a long burn across the development of each boy involving schools and families. We know the significance for boys of caring relationships — with parents, friends and teachers — in providing the necessary intimacy for reflection and accountability for actions.

Boys’ schools have the advantage of being able to direct their levers of relational influence exclusively to what they know is important in the care of boys, including self-worth, purpose and participation, service to a greater good, responsibility, behaviour and accountability.

We know that, on average, boys and girls develop at different times and at different rates. We know boys are relational learners. From data, we know that since the introduction of a national curriculum in Britain, and the focus on a content/test approach to education, boys have fallen behind girls in measured testing outcomes. We know that continuing the rightful and long overdue march to equality for girls and women and doing the right thing by boys are not competing goals and can, and should, be pursued together. We know from decades of research, the significant parts played in children’s development and behaviour of the home environment, peer groups and success in the classroom.

Boys’ schools work intentionally for the needs of boys during key times of development. In and out of class, boys’ schools can take time to provide experiences that build the relationships, respect and trust on which boys thrive. They can find the time to run activities and nurture the stories upon which boys hang their learning. They can take the time to know each boy, unearth passions, hone mastery and guide him to choose engagement with, rather than separation from, learning. They can take time to steer recruitment and professional development towards staff skilled in learning relationships and the development of boys.

Such factors have always been central to the education of boys. In an environment where education and ‘success’ are increasingly premised on a content/test/qualification format, schools are increasingly struggling to find the time to provide the care boys need. The gap widens.

In short, boys’ schools can, with intent and for each boy, take time to care; to develop programs that unearth passions and hone mastery across a broad landscape, so that being interested in things and aspiring to get good at them for the benefit of all become habits for life.

In addition to that provided in this article, there is good evidence of success.

The research paper Achievement in Boys’ Schools 2017-2021 by Nathaniel Williamson demonstrates that the data for achievement in New Zealand continues to show that boys in boys’ schools have consistently outperformed their counterparts in coeducational schools, achieving higher average pass rates; this conclusion holding on every measure and filter applied. In subgroups that underperform compared to national averages (e.g., for the group with the lowest socioeconomic measure) the single-sex advantage is even more pronounced and shows the largest difference in the achievement rates. This latest update on boys’ achievement data built upon two previous reports reaching the same conclusions - notably that of Dr Michael Johnston of the Faculty of Education at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, 2013-2016 – giving 12 years of data from 2010 to 2022, inclusive, without any year or subgroup bucking the trend.

There are many fine coeducational schools, there are many fine girls’ schools and, throughout the world, across government, independent and Catholic sectors there are many fine boys’ schools providing choice for families, acting intentionally to care for boys and equipping them with the qualities and skills to identify and navigate the cracks on their journey’s path.

Tom Batty
Executive Director, International Boys’ Schools Coalition