Boys’ Achievement: A Synthesis of the Data

Publication Details

The focus of this report is on boys’ participation, engagement and achievement at different levels of education.

Author(s): Learning Policy Frameworks, Ministry of Education

Date Published: December 2007

Discussion / Conclusions

The data presented on New Zealand boys’ achievement in this report has shown that many boys are achieving at school, including Māori and Pasifika boys, and that there has been no marked decline in the performance of either boys or girls over the last five years.  However, it has highlighted some issues in the area of boy’s educational engagement and achievement.

The most striking achievement issue is in literacy where a literacy gender gap in favour of females develops after the start of schooling and persists throughout the education system.  In general, boys perform less well in reading and, in particular, in writing than girls.  Boys are also over-represented in the lowest performing literacy group of students and under-represented in the highest achieving group.  Of particular concern is the proportion of Māori and Pasifika boys in these groups.

Regular school attendance is essential to encourage all young people to stay at school until at least the age of 16 and benefit from being there.  The school leaving patterns of boys’ and their over-representation in stand-downs, suspensions and exclusions is a serious issue.  Males account for over 70 % of stand-downs and suspensions and their over-representation increases in the formal removal of students from school (exclusions and expulsions).  Early leaving exemptions are also more frequently granted to male students, but the rate for Māori males (20 %) is of key concern.

In addition, females tend to stay at school longer and attain higher formal qualifications than males.  Higher proportions of males than females leave school with little or no formal attainment but this gender difference has decreased over time.  Males are also less likely to leave school with an NCEA level 2 qualification or higher, or University Entrance or higher.  In 2006 females were 31 % more likely than males to gain University Entrance or higher qualifications.  Of particular concern is the very low level of Māori and Pasifika males attaining University Entrance.

These gender differences in qualification attainment also impact on tertiary education participation.  Even though males and females are equally likely to transition straight to tertiary education, the higher proportion of females with University Entrance results in higher proportions of females enrolled in degree (level 7) level courses, whereas more males enrol in lower level certificate courses.  As well as having lower participation rates in tertiary education males are also less likely to attain a tertiary qualification. 

Males and females with tertiary qualifications, even sub-degree qualifications, have greater labour force participation and, on average, earn higher incomes.  For males in particular, if they do not have an upper secondary qualification they are much more likely to be unemployed than males with at least an upper secondary qualification.  So, addressing low educational attainment will have long term benefits for the individual and society.

The Ministry of Education is committed to ensuring that all children achieve to their full potential in the education system.  Even though this report shows that many boys are succeeding at school, it also highlights some issues in the area of boys’ literacy, engagement and qualification attainment.  In order to fully understand these gender differences it is important to draw on the literature on early childhood, biological and cognitive differences, cultural differences, pedagogical approaches, assessment methods and socio-economic factors such as family income or parental education.

This report should sit alongside the research literature to put the gender debate in context.  The literature reports a number of research studies and initiatives that focus on raising achievement and these have built a knowledge base of effective practice and innovation in teaching boys.  The challenge now is for schools and their communities to engage with some of the issues faced by boys and to build this knowledge base into school and classroom practice.