Try, try and try again.

Boys DO Try.

I’ve just started reading Boys Don’t Try? By Matt Pinkett and Mark Roberts and by Page 5 and after the introduction by Mary Myatt I was already thinking about the Title…do boys try? If so, what do they try at? The book addresses notions of masculinity in education and I know it’s going to be challenging.

Anyway, this was midnight so I put the book and the thoughts away and went to sleep.

To wake up at 0430 with some ideas and thoughts about this blog…notes made, I went back to sleep.


I reflected on my own teenage experiences, school age experiences and about some of the young people I’ve met in 13 years of school-based workshops and realised that Boys Do Try.

Boys try to respond to the stimuli around them.

Boys try to emulate the role models they see in person, in the home, in their towns, on the TV, in films, on the pitch.

Boys try to compete in many ways.

Boys try to stand out. Or try to stay invisible.

Boys try to be the fastest, the strongest, the earliest to grow a beard, the best at X Box games, the best at fighting, the best dressed.

In the 1980’s the male role models I saw on TV were generally half a step forwards from the 1970s – we had Wall Street machismo, Footballers who went out and drunk 7, 8, 9 pints after a match on a Saturday, Cops on the Sweeney that were hard-drinking, violent, corrupt womanisers and films included First Blood, Full Metal Jacket, The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now.

80s male role models were cavemen in chinos and red braces, nylon tracksuits and leather blousons that morphed into Loaded-reading Man-Lads in the 90s – who wouldn’t or couldn’t reach the top shelf in the Newsagent. The 90’s were fuelled by the arrogant swagger of BritPop and alcopops it’s fair to say that modern-man wasn’t as far from the cave as they should have been in terms of their vulnerability (don’t show it), Kindness (that’s weak) and respect for one another or women (treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen etc).

Bringing us to the 2000s, in the UK we were developing the best football league in the world and moving towards and successfully through the Olympic Games in London 2012 and our public role models and prosperity never seemed greater…and now we are where we are. Since 2016 in the West we have been gripped by Fake News, Brexit, Trump and the growing march of the Right against the backdrop of austerity, growing knife crime and global climate catastrophe.

Do Boys Not Try? Do some boys try? Yes.

Have there always been boys who don’t try? Yes. 

A few blogs back I wrote (see link) about taking the wrong turns I did in the 1980s and what that led to (eventually) in the longer-term. About how I was only able to ask for help when I got an E and a U at A Level and then rebuilding myself away from the toxic environment of the Home Counties town I grew up in.


Sending the ladder back down…

At 16, I tried to be the best at being angry, being a football thug, being the one with the girlfriend(s), the one with the best wardrobe, the one who could drink the most and the one who could punish his parents for making him stay at the Boy’s Grammar School instead of going to the College with his mates.

I said I’d been reflecting about what I tried to be or achieve as a teenager – or what I didn’t try to do – and make sense of it in hindsight:

  • Because I was angry with my parents, I drifted into trying to be the hardest, meanest and one of the bad-lads at the school.
  • I lived for the time I wasn’t at school.
  • I lived for trying to be the best dressed – on £8 a week from my part time job this mean I used to shoplift to feed my fashion habit.
  • I lived for being ‘the one with the girlfriend’ so spent lots of time chasing girls.
  • I lived for football and went to Arsenal as often as I could.
  • I lived for being ‘one of the lads’ so moved towards hanging onto the tailcoats of the proper Gooners.
  • I lived for winding up teachers and getting thrown out of class.

When I was 17 I found out I was adopted so I used this as a massive wedge to drive between myself, my sister (also adopted) and my parents who, as an ex Policeman and a mum who cared deeply about ‘what people thought’ were already dreading my behaviour.

OK, enough navel gazing, what does this have to do with Boys Don’t Try?

Well, actually they do try really hard when they see what they think is their pathway (whatever happens to be driving them). Boys will go out of their way to impress those who they look up to, will learn the knowledge they think is important (new games, football scores, names, costs and details of their favourite trainers, bands and phone) and will aspire to mimic the behaviour of those who ring their bells…the trouble is, those bells aren’t always the ones you as a teacher, school or parent want them to ring.

It’s not news that this is a perennial tension and it’s often after a trauma, drama, failure or success that we realise what is important and where we’ve gone wrong. It took me until the birth of our second child in 2000 to realise that it was time to be an adult, be responsible and make sure I’m someone to look up to, that included giving up drinking in 2005.

What does this mean for how we look at boys and how we encourage them to try? In no particular order:

  • Encourage discussion, no REALLY encourage discussion in the classroom around a range of topics in PSHE;
  • Encourage listening;
  • Reduce the tropes and stereotypes in your classroom: ask students to call it out;
  • Value and celebrate kindness as a positive and not a weakness;
  • Ensure respect is a central tenet of your school’s values.

Boys do try, the same as anyone else, boys respond to culture, consistency and care.

It might take more time with some than others.



PS: Yes, that’s me on top of the phone box.

PPS: Here’s a blog I wrote about a discussion I had with a Year 11 boy that made me think about the impact and importance of culture of schools: