Several indicators, including international studies, NCEA data and the difference in school leaving qualifications for boys and girls recognise an ongoing achievement gap between boys and girls. International research on the achievement gap between boys and girls most often points to issues of literacy, especially writing, as being a key area of difference between boys' and girls' achievement. 1

Nevertheless, despite the relatively high numbers of boys who underachieve, research shows that just as many boys perform well in education as girls. Care is needed in discussing which groups of boys are not succeeding at school, and that the achievement differences between boys and girls are not seen as an educational problem for all boys.

This Education Review Office report provides schools and policy makers with examples of how 10 New Zealand secondary schools successfully support boys' education. The schools in this study were selected on the basis of their good overall levels of student achievement, previous positive ERO reports and their well-developed pastoral care and support strategies. Five boys' schools and five coeducational schools are used as case studies.

Most of the schools had developed initiatives that were specifically intended to raise boys' achievement, and that were successful with certain groups of boys. There are initiatives that have variously developed the academic, cultural, sporting and leadership qualities of boys. Several are in the important areas of literacy and numeracy. There are organisational and design initiatives to improve the way the curriculum and timetable worked for boys, and others that supported the achievement of Māori boys, Pacific boys, rural boys and boys who were at risk of not achieving.

This report also identifies the key strengths of the schools and some ongoing challenges faced by them in relation to boys' education. Where possible, each of the topics in these sections includes questions to help other schools reflect on how ERO's findings relate directly to their own work with boys.

The key strengths found at schools in this study were: high quality staff and student leadership; a positive school culture with a strong focus on positive image; relevant teaching and learning contexts; and constructive relationships. The schools all dealt positively with potentially negative images of boys' education, including: the bullying image that affects some boys' schools; the support structures that existed particularly for boys' literacy; and the various ways that schools had engaged different groups of boys.

The key challenges for the schools were: meeting the needs of a small percentage of disengaged boys, many of whom are from disadvantaged backgrounds; supporting Māori and Pacific boys; strengthening some aspects of literacy teaching; and undertaking useful analyses of the ongoing and complex gap between girls' and boys' achievement. It is also important to remember that, although an achievement gap exists between boys and girls, there are still high numbers of girls who do not succeed at secondary school, and any analysis of achievement should include issues associated with both genders.

Future directions for schools

Schools can use this report as a starting point to:

  • inform their own review of the achievement of boys at their school;
  • include in their analysis of achievement data, such as NCEA, a breakdown of how well different groups of students achievem at their school, and then examine the factors behind the achievement patterns for boys and girls; and
  • review how well the school uses student feedback to inform their teaching, learning and co-curricular activities for different groups of students.