Taking Boys Seriously - addressing underachievement

The first Taking Boys Seriously joint conference organised by Ulster University, The Controlled Schools’ Support Council and the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools took place on Wednesday 17 October 2018.


The conference captured innovative practice in some of Northern Ireland’s post primary schools and youth groups in terms of raising boys’ aspirations and improving engagement.  A panel comprising youth workers and educators discussed attainment within their areas of expertise.  Delegates will be invited to contribute how we can all work together to improve outcomes. 

The Taking Boys Seriously research, led by Ulster University, seeks to proactively engage with young men, schools and youth groups to increase attainment and levels of higher education participation among young males. 

Professor Brian Murphy, Director of Widening Access from Ulster University said

We are delighted to partner with the two main schools’ councils on the conference theme of Taking Boys Seriously. The correlation between educational attainment and social mobility is well known; so too is the failure to eradicate entrenched social immobility. Our research seeks to break decades of leaving many boys and young men behind. This may mean change in policy; but it is most likely to involve changes in pedagogy and practice - a real opportunity to better understand how choice of instructional method and social aspects of learning may improve outcomes for those who are most able but least likely.

Today is a great start with schools, schools’ councils, education authorities, policy makers and youth organisations working in concert. As a major civic institution, Ulster University is making a long-term commitment by investing in this research as part of our widening access strategy.

Barry Mulholland, Chief Executive of the Controlled Schools’ Support Council (CSSC) said

CSSC is delighted to be co-hosting this conference with Ulster University and CCMS.  Our own research has shown that while 61% of controlled school pupils achieve five or more GCSEs at A* to C (including English and maths), it adds to the growing body of evidence that male pupils entitled to free schools meals are underachieving.  

When statistics are considered, the complexity of factors impacting on pupil attainment become apparent.  Blunt measures such as GCSE results do not reflect the added value that schools provide to enable pupils to achieve their potential.

It's clearly evident there are innovative approaches in the controlled sector that focus on raising attainment; this conference provides an opportunity to showcase best practice from two of our schools, Markethill High School and Abbey Community College through its partnership with Monkstown Boxing Club.

Gerry Campbell, Chief Executive of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) said

This important conference today highlights the role that CCMS continues to play in supporting and challenging school leaders and Governors to ensure that a range of strategies are in place to address the barriers to learning and underachievement of all pupils, particularly boys and pupils facing social deprivation. 

The performance of pupils in our maintained post-primary schools (non-selective) in 2017/18 was more than 5% above the Northern Ireland average for all non-selective schools. 

However, there still remains a significant gender gap between the attainment of boys and girls and CCMS remains committed to supporting our schools in raising standards for all pupils, particularly boys and pupils entitled to free school meals and in ensuring they develop the wider skills and capabilities necessary for life and work. 

Today we are particularly delighted to be able to showcase the proactive and imaginative approaches being developed in St Joseph’s Boys School towards raising the aspirations and achievements of boys and young men in Derry city. 


17 October 2018