Why it’s men that should be discussing the PP

I went on Friday to talk about the PP with the sixth form at South Hampstead High School, a single-sex school.  The 60 or so girls engaged with the issues in lively fashion (or so it seemed to me), and I learnt much from the discussion.

Towards the end of the discussion one girl observed that I shouldn’t really be talking to them, but to boys – and men – instead. How right she is, for two reasons.

First, here are the latest UCAS figures on university applications.

In England, in 2014, 39.9 per cent of 18 year old women have applied compared with 30.0 per cent of men, making women a third more likely to apply for higher education at age 18 than men. This proportional difference has remained steady between 2012 and 2014.
A slightly lower proportional difference in application rates is observed in Northern Ireland where, in 2014, young women are 30 per cent more likely to apply than men.
In Wales, the proportional difference in application rates between women and men is higher, at around 42 per cent in 2014.
The proportional difference in application rates between women and men in Scotland has increased from around 44 per cent in 2012 and 2013 to 49 per cent in 2014. This increase has been driven by an increase in the application rate from women, while the application rate for men has remained unchanged. Also, for Scotland, there was a significant widening of the gap in application rates between women and men in 2010. This coincided with the integration of the Scottish nursing admissions system (CATCH) into UCAS.

These are really substantial differences, and I think it’s time for a debate on why this is happening (especially in Scotland…). There seem to me to be at least three lines of reflection:
1. Quite simply, just why is the gap so big, and growing?
2. If we think that there are lessons to be drawn from the girls’ superior performance and aspirations which might help boys, what are these?
3. Looking in a very different direction, is it conceivable that we should be thinking about a different emphasis for boys’ learning pathways? This is controversial territory, and of course I don’t think that there is any kind of absolute distinction. But what innovations might there be in our educational offer which fit better with different average maturation trajectories between the sexes? How far would these be compatible with general equality concerns?

The second reason for taking the discussion to males is very different. It is to do with male careers (not just of young men, but across the life course), and whether more men might be encouraged/enabled/incentivised/induced to pursue different trajectories. I’ve talked about this a little in earlier posts – and will return to it.

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