One in four boys is turned off school

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Almost one in four boys in the UK is already “anti-school” by the age of seven, a major survey has revealed.

Boys of this age are more than twice as likely as girls to say they do not like school, according to a study from the Institute of Education, University of London. Twenty-four per cent do not enjoy primary school, compared with only 10 per cent of girls.
The research, which involved more than 14,000 children, also found that 63 per cent of seven-year-old girls, but only 43 per cent of boys, like school “a lot”.

The findings have emerged from the Millennium Cohort Study, which is tracking the development of children born in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland between 2000 and 2002. The study’s latest survey, carried out in 2008/9, has confirmed that seven-year-old boys are much less keen than girls on reading. Less than half of the boys (48%) said they enjoy reading, compared with nearly two-thirds of girls (65%).

Boys appear to like number work and science marginally more than girls do. However, girls of this age appear to be more focused on their schoolwork and are more likely than boys to say they always try their best at school.

Four in five girls also say they behave well in class – a claim made by only three in five boys. Half of the girls (51%) believe that their teachers think they are clever, compared with 44 per cent of the boys. 

The researchers who analysed the children’s responses, Aleks Collingwood and Nadine Simmonds, of the National Centre for Social Research, also point out that girls seem to be happier, in general, than boys. Boys are more likely to say they are worried or admit they have short tempers.
The survey also found that boys enjoy:

  • watching television, videos and DVDs more than girls do (boys 79%:girls 68%)
  • playing console games such as Xbox and PlayStation (82%:52%)
  • taking part in sports and outdoor games (74%:66%).

 However, girls are more likely than boys to say they like:

  • listening to, and playing, music (66%:46%)
  • drawing and making things (81%:62%).

Other findings include:

  • Scotland had the lowest child poverty rate and Wales the highest. Children in England were the most likely to say they enjoyed school while children in Wales were the most likely to be reported in excellent health. However, this study’s major finding is that the variations in family circumstances and children’s outcomes are far greater within countries, than between them. 
  • Regardless of where they lived, ethnic minority families, apart from Indians, were considerably poorer than whites. This is a similar pattern to previous sweeps, although Indian families have drawn closer to whites. Verbal cognitive assessments revealed more dramatic gains for Indian children. By age 7, they had surpassed white children by a wide margin, and other minority children had also caught up with them. There is, however, much evidence of diversity between and within ethnic groups. This should caution against crude white/non-white comparisons. 
  • There is also abundant evidence of the transmission of social and economic advantage. The key gap in cognitive ability between children from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds remained roughly constant between ages 5 and 7. The parental interviews suggest, however, that families across the social spectrum are taking an interest in their children’s schooling and have high aspirations. Trouble may yet cloud the cohort members’ future; but the conclusion from the age 7 survey must be that they are generally thriving, healthy and doing their best to learn.

The findings appear in a report published by the Institute of Education’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies: Millennium Cohort Study, Fourth Survey: A User's Guide to Initial Findings.