From the Head Master

From the Head Master

During the course of this week there has been some discussion in the media comparing the academic results of boys and girls. In particular, there were two stories in the Sydney Morning Herald that caught my eye.

The first one had to do with different performances of girls and boys across the State in rankings for university admissions. The University Admissions Centre (UAC), which is responsible for the generation of the Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR) released data showing that girls outperform boys at every level of the ATAR except the very top (98 and over) and the bottom (below 40).

The second story compared HSC results, as measured in the annual SMH ‘league table’ between non-selective high-fee schools for boys and non-selective high-fee schools for boys, noting that the girls’ schools outperform the boys’ schools.

Given the data in the first story, the comparison in the second story was entirely unsurprising. Of course schools comprised of female students get more HSC Band 6 results than schools comprised of male students do. In fact, the data in the first story is a clear indication that the causes underlying the disparity are far bigger than the particular approaches or distinctives of any one school’s (or group of schools’) approach to education.

Before commencing, I note that it is impossible to discuss this data without using generalisations. Generalisations help us to discuss ‘big-picture’ trends and data and enable us to move away from anecdotal observations from our own experience. However, we must always recognise the limitations of generalisations. To state that ‘girls do better than boys at school’ is not to state ‘all girls do better than all boys at all aspects of school’.

I make the following general observations that are pertinent to this issue.

Generalisation #1: There are fundamental biological and hormonal differences between boys and girls. Some behavioural characteristics are associated with these differences.

Generalisation #2: In a related observation, girls mature faster than boys. This has implications for their engagement with some forms of learning, as well as their readiness to perform successfully in some forms of assessment.

Generalisation #3: In addition to the differences mentioned in Generalisation #1, there are cultural factors, expectations and influences that shape the behaviours of boys and girls differently, which also influence their engagement with learning at school.

All of which is to say, both nature and nurture have impacts on the ways that boys and girls take part in school education.

It is important also to note that there are myriad other factors, in addition to biological sex and gender, that contribute to the identity of each individual. Schools teach diverse groups of learners, wherein each person has a unique story, including strengths and weaknesses, advantages and disadvantages, dispositions, experiences, interests and all the other elements that make us who we are.

The challenge for educators is to provide education that is accessible and effective for all students.

School education takes place in the context of systems and structures. For example, in NSW students experience thirteen years of mandatory school; there are four terms in a school year; the hours of the school day are relatively standard; the assessment structure for the final credential includes both internal and external assessment; the curriculum structure mandates that certain subjects are to be studied for a certain number of hours each year, regardless of an individual student’s progress; and the list of constraints goes on. While there is some limited flexibility whereby schools can tinker around the edges of these constraints, the systems and structures tend to be fixed.

The significance of the UAC data mentioned above is that it demonstrates that our schooling systems and structures are less effective for boys than for girls – at least with reference to the results in the final credential. This is a systemic issue that is much bigger than the classroom practice of individual teachers or the educational distinctives of boys’ schools compared to girls’ schools.

Nonetheless, there is a lot that schools and individual teachers can do to enable boys to participate successfully in education. It won’t surprise you to know that I believe Trinity does an outstanding job in the education of boys. Even using the reductive metric of the ATAR, Trinity’s results demonstrate that we are able to help boys to succeed at School. In 2021, eighty-five boys achieved an ATAR over 95. Our median ATAR was 89.55, which compares very favourably to the State median ATAR for boys which was 68.70. (As our families know, the SMH league tables are based only on HSC results and do not take IB Diploma results into account.)

Finally, I do want to note that success in the final Year 12 credential is only one measure of success in education, albeit the easiest to measure and upon which to comment. The higher goal to which we aspire is the formation of character – the growing of good men. Our families and our alumni are best-placed to comment on the effectiveness of the School’s efforts in this regard.

Detur gloria soli Deo

Tim Bowden | Head Master

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