‘Why on earth should we send our son to a boys’ only school?’ ‘Society is not a single gender so how does it benefit our son to go to an all boys’ school?’ It is really important to ask these questions and it may well be that you ultimately conclude that you would rather have your son attend a co-educational setting. I have myself had that mental quarrel about a single sex education and I have taught in co-ed schools and single-sex schools and indeed attended both as a child. I now have my own two boys at Thorpe and I genuinely believe it is the place where they will most flourish. I accept that a single sex education is not for everyone but I would like to present to you the case for an all boys’ school.
First of all I believe it is so important that boys have positive role models. Peer pressure is a huge negative on children so we look to address this at Thorpe by focusing on our whole school ethos and involving the older boys to instil a positive attitude in our younger boys. Looking to the older boys and identifying with them is something that can be lost in a co-educational environment so at Thorpe we make the most of emphasising what it means to be a positive male role-model. Often the perception of boys is that they are not as gentle or compassionate as girls but in an all-boys school there is no need for the boys to put on a tough-guy façade and actually their empathy is significantly enhanced as a result; I firmly believe that we are able to foster greater respect for feelings, respect for one another and, very importantly, respect for women. It is perhaps only in an all-boy setting that we can truly focus on showing the boys what a decent man looks like and that is perhaps the main reason for considering an education for your son at Thorpe.
I wonder if you have ever reflected on how the commercial world influences our image of boys and often creates what are arguably very unhelpful stereotypes. The distinction is perhaps less than it used to be but there is still a negativity and apathy that seems to be encouraged amongst boys; there was the Bhs T-Shirt that said ‘I’m lazy and I’m proud of it’ and there are plenty of similar ones still around – ‘Resist, Revolt and rebel’, ‘busy doing nothing’. We fight this attitude at Thorpe and believe that 80% of your self-esteem is in other people’s faces. If you truly engage with the boys, get to know them, they rise to the expectations that we have of them and their self-esteem soars.
It is said ‘boys love competition’. In some instance that may be true but actually I believe that it is equally true for girls. What boys do like is challenge. We challenge all our boys every day with the belief that they can be ‘better today than they were yesterday, better tomorrow than they were today’. The whole point of this challenge is that it is unique to every boy – it is not about them comparing themselves with the person sitting next to them, it is about the personal challenge that encourages them to think about what they can do as individuals to push themselves on. As such we look to promote a reflective culture at the school which keeps us all on our toes and pushes us to be the best version of ourselves.
We also look to promote independence in the boys. Developing resilience and personal responsibility is so important; if you do everything for boys you disable them for life – they won’t be able to do homework or coursework and they will keep expecting to be spoon-fed. When things get difficult they may look to drop subjects or find an excuse to get out of something but, as is written in the children’s story, ‘We’re going on a bear hunt’:
We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.
We’ve got to go through it!
There are challenges in life and we make sure the boys recognise that and we are proud in how we develop resilience in our boys. We encourage parents to help in this from early on by getting the boys to do just the little things at home such as packing their own bags for school and taking pride in their appearance; resilience starts at home but the role of the school is massively important in a world where the youth are currently facing a mental health crisis.
Following on from the last point, we emphasise at Thorpe the importance in the little things in life. If you give the boys an inch, they will push boundaries so we make sure they know what expectations we have of them. Taking pride in their appearance and looking smart is important to us because it sets the tone. I believe firmly that if you can get the little things right in life, the bigger challenges are never quite as difficult as they might first seem. I also believe, as someone who could be described as vertically challenged, that you feel just a little bit taller if you have that pride in yourself and it then transfers into everything else that you do in life.
Continuing with the theme of the boys taking responsibility for their learning, we encourage the boys to do lots of presentations in school, to get the boys involved in the teaching – this results in memory retention improving by as much as 90% in boys. We also recognise the importance and benefit of setting sort term targets, short term goals and short term rewards. Boys are not perhaps as patient as girls but in all seriousness it is important that we adapt our approach accordingly. It also helps for boys to have clear checklist so that they can see how they are progressing in a topic or with a particular task and perhaps above all, the boys need to understand and recognise the purpose in what they are doing. They will switch off if they cannot see the benefit of an exercise and so there is greater effort to offer real application to what they are doing.
Statistics never seem to favour boys! Nationally, 80% of permanent exclusions in schools are boys, and again nationally, girls outperform boys in every subject! It is one of the reasons why we genuinely believe in an education for boys rather than co-education because we can focus on building their confidence so that when they go into a co-education environment, whether it be at Sixth Form or University, they are ready for it.
Education of any child is all about successful partnership. The school and pupils have to work collaboratively but perhaps even more important, particularly for boys, is close parental engagement. Boys’ attainment is raised by 20% where parents are actively involved in their son’s education and we look to work as closely as possible with you to ensure that we know your son in order to get the very best out of him.
Engagement with your sons at home also makes a much bigger difference than you might realise but there are ways to reflect on how best to speak with boys about their day. I am sure we have all been there when a teenage boy comes out of school and you ask him how the day has gone and the response is simply ‘FINE’. You might have done well to get even that response! Again boys respond better when they are asked to reflect upon something more specific, where they can think of particular events: consider asking them ‘what was the best question you asked today?’, ‘what was the best question you were asked?’, ‘what was the funniest thing that happened today?’ – it is all about focused engagement and that is what we also look to do in our lessons.
As I finish these reflections, I wonder if you have thought about how best to encourage boys to do something for you? This is highly secret so keep it to yourselves – use ‘thank you’ instead of ‘please’. If you say thank you it is a fait accompli but if you ask boys to do something, they will often ask ‘why?’. Don’t give them the option – I promise you it can be transformative.
Please come and talk to us further about how we look to bring out the best in boys. It is a privilege for us to be an Independent School for Boys and we love what we do!