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Chris McGovern: Lessons in the bleeding obvious. The Blob still doesn’t get it


A new report from the Sutton Trust links high pupil aspiration to academic success. Now, who would have thought that? The research concluded that even at the age of 13, girls are more likely to aspire towards university than boys. As a consequence more girls do, indeed, make it to ‘uni’.

Professor Kathy Sylva, the report’s co-author, notes: “The higher aspirations of girls in comparison to boys may be linked to their greater A-level success and gaining admission to university.”

When educational research from a respected organisation such as the Sutton Trust concludes by stating the bleeding obvious it confirms that lack of common sense in the education world is endemic. What state is our educational establishment in when the researchers have to ‘spell out’ for it self-evident truths that are important in shaping pupils’ aspirations and a belief in their own abilities? These include attending a more academically effective primary school, a well-resourced secondary school and being encouraged to spend time on homework. Mind boggling, indeed, that this message still seems not yet to have struck home!

So here goes all you education experts and ‘stake holders’! Listen carefully to this advice from Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust:

“Today’s report shows us how important it is to raise the aspirations and self-belief of pupils from poorer homes, particularly boys. We need to offer more support to disadvantaged young people throughout their education so that they are in a position to fulfil their potential after GCSE. Crucially, it shows that both aspirations and attainment matter for pupils, so it is vital that schools support both particularly for their poorer pupils.”

Have you got that at the DfE, in the teacher training departments of our universities, at the teacher union  headquarters, in the schools, in the Commons Select Committee on Education? Has the message got through? Are you listening out there, you great big failure of an educational establishment? Let’s hear it for all those kids you have been letting down for decades!

Perhaps, the next piece of educational research could establish that academically and socially, girls tend to mature more quickly than boys and that they often dominate boys in the primary school classroom. Perhaps, it could find out that confident and precocious girls like Hermione Granger, of Harry Potter fame, are the norm in many lessons and sometimes boys can find it difficult to get a look in.

Yes, such girls are delight to teach but boys can lose out. Perhaps, some research could show that parents need the option of single sex primary schools. Perhaps, the researchers could find out why, as head of a boys prep school, I was overwhelmed with applications from ’savvy’ parents who had reached the same conclusion. Probably the best ‘primary’ schools in the world are those UK single sex institutions in the private sector such as Westminster Under School just over the road from the Department for Education.

The researchers could also do with discovering that, to raise expectations and aspirations, especially among pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, we need more ‘role model’ male teachers in state primary schools.

Finally, the researchers need to find out why far too many school-leavers are being seduced on to university degree courses for which many are not suited and which saddle them with a future of under-employment and a lifetime of debt. We need researchers to recommend that apprenticeships, vocational training courses or full time employment are a far better choice than university for many school-leavers.

And if, in the end, as the Sutton Trust research has found out, more boys than girls are already following this route, we need some more research to point out that they are certainly not all missing out. Aspirations need to be raised for more than the pursuit of an academic pathway – as our economic competitors realised a long time ago…and they did not need too much research to work that one out.

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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