Just when you think the Guardian/Observer can’t get any worse, it pulls something out of the fire. This article by Torsten Bell appeared in the Guardian on 11/09/22 here.
Let’s start with the headline ‘why girls lucky enough to have female teachers lead richer, longer lives.’ Would a girl need to be lucky to have a female teacher? The answer is, of course, no. Overall, 75.8% of teachers in state schools are female. This disparity is even more marked in UK primary schools, where just 15% of teachers are male. A girl would not need to be lucky to have female teachers. On the other hand, a boy would need to be lucky to have a male teacher.
Tony Sewell, author of the Commission on Racial Disparities Report, describes this situation well. He noted that when he went into primary schools he would be surrounded by boys. The explanation, he came to realise, was that these boys almost never saw an adult male figure at school and sometimes even at home; they were frankly overjoyed to see a friendly male face.
Obviously, this matters. Boys are falling behind in education. In 2015 77% of boy achieved level 4 at Key stage 2 (&-11) while 88% of girls achieved the same level. This inequality continues at GCSE level, where 10% more girls achieve A*-C grades than boys. Female school leavers are 38% more likely to apply to University than their male peers and the gap widens further among those from the lowest socioeconomic backgrounds, where the girls from disadvantaged backgrounds are 58% more likely to apply to university.
There is more to this problem than lack of male role models. According to William Collin’s blog, the Illustrated Empathy Gap, teachers may discriminate against boys. William reviewed data from Key Stage 2 SATS results in the UK (see here). The tests contains both teacher based assessments and test based assessments. I regard the latter assessment type as offering more of a level playing field, because work is being assessed by an outsider with no classroom based prejudices. William found that teacher based assessments of girls were inflated by approximately 6% compared to more objective external assessments. Although this difference is small it accounts for a significant proportion of the achievement gap between boys and girls. The data doesn’t reveal whether female teachers are more likely to discriminate in favour of girls, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they did.
This data also chimes with my experience and that of my peer group. We always suspected that girls were given an easy ride by our teachers. Indeed, it was a source of resentment. Then came what used to be known as GCE O-levels, an exam we used to take at age 16. This assessment was exam based and marked by someone who had no knowledge of your previous bad behaviour, lack of charm or physical unattractiveness. We, the boys, noticed that our position, relative to the girls, was reversed. We were now coming top and outperforming them. For many of us it was an epiphany and we never looked back. Boys today are unlikely to have that experience because the education system has been rigged against them, and they know it.
Did Torsten Bell back up his opinions with any data? Yes, but that data was nearly one hundred years old and from the USA. Data that was cherry-picked and told us nothing useful about our present situation in the UK. If Torsten had spent five minutes searching on Google he could have produced a better article than the one he wrote. Then again, it wouldn’t have got into the Guardian.
The article made me curious about Torsten Bell who heads the left-leaning ‘think-tank’ – The Resolution Foundation. His full name is Torsten Henricson-Bell. Perhaps he dropped the Henricson-hyphen bit because he thought that sounded too upper-class for the leader of a left leaning think tank. According to Charity Commission data, he is paid £130-140,0000 per annum for is work at the Resolution Foundation.
Torsten came straight from Oxford University to serve in the Treasury under Gordon Brown. He subsequently served as an advisor to succession of labour leaders. Given that Labour is still in opposition and has lost the red-wall constituencies, perhaps his advice hasn’t been good. In 2015, he was even responsible for one of the Labour Party’s most risible failures, the ‘EdStone’ on which Labour’s promises to the electorate were carved.
I would like to know much more about Torsten’s background. What type of education did he receive? And what did he study at Oxford? I wonder if he is one of those standard upper-class progressive who thinks girls are more deserving of compassion than girls?