Dear College Community 

With the school now less populated as a result of 200 Senior College students studying at home and arriving at school for final exams only, it seems a much quieter space. Again, we wish them well, and hope they study effectively and are able to give their best at exam time. 

This leads me into an article I wish to share regarding boys in education. Unfortunately, the statistics don’t lie, and our boys are being let down by the general education system. One of our focuses is to have a session later in the year to help realign all staff on how boys learn differently to girls. Not that we are neglecting the girls, but we do need to help prop up our boys. 

Before going into the article, I share with you the MRC recent NAPLAN results. They are very encouraging indeed having performed well at both Year 7 and 9 levels. 

As you can see from the graphs below, Year 7 have performed above both the State and National levels in all the five domains of Reading, Writing, Spelling, Grammar and Punctuality, and Numeracy. Well done to all Year 7 students and staff. 

2022 Comparison between Year 7 Marist and other schools  
Year 7  Reading  Writing  Spelling  Grammar and Punctuation  Numeracy 
Marist   98.8%  97.5%  96.3%  96.3%  98.1% 
Tasmania  92.9%  88.6%  89.5%  89.4%  90.0% 
Australia  94.2%  90.6%  92.9%  92.0%  92.0% 
% = at or above minimum standard. In bold cell = Results where we are above state and national levels 

Year 9 have also performed very well, again, above both the State and National levels in all five domains. Congratulations to Year 9 students and staff. 

2022 Comparison between Year 9 Marist and other schools
Year 9  Reading  Writing  Spelling  Grammar and Punctuation  Numeracy 
Marist   92.7%  91.2%  94.9%  91.2%  99.3% 
Tasmania  86.7%  78.2%  86.6%  81.7%  93.5% 
Australia  89.6%  84.1%  91.8%  86.5%  95.0% 
% = at or above minimum standard. In bold cell = Results where we are above state and national levels 

Whereas these results are extremely encouraging, we cannot rest on our laurels. The idea of NAPLAN, apart from capturing National data, is to allow schools to examine their results and maintain good teaching in areas we are doing well in, and critically cast an eye over areas in which we need to improve. 

Above all else, reading and writing remain the critical focus for all students but particularly for boys. 

Schooling is 90% literacy based. Students who struggle to read and write find school a very tough gig. And so, we look at some statistics about boys in education. It’s not altogether flattering. 

Why Boys are Falling Behind at School 

Source: Excerpt from article published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, 2 November 2022

The latest NAPLAN results demonstrating girls outperform boys in writing and reading illustrate the problem of boys underachieving. Boys’ underperformance is especially evident with year 9 writing, where only 81.6% of boys reach the minimal level, compared with 90.8 percent of girls. 

Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), the body responsible for NAPLAN, describes the minimum standard as demonstrating “only the basic elements of literacy and numeracy at their year level”. If boys’ mastery of reading and writing is basic, many will find the standard expected at years 11 and 12 impossible to achieve. 

Boys, particularly at year 9 level, lag behind girls in reading and writing. 

Girls also outperform boys in reading across years 3, 5, 7 and 9, with the greatest disparity in year 9, where 93.3 percent of girls reach the minimum standard compared with 87.3 percent of boys. 

While boys do marginally better than girls in numeracy, when it comes to spelling, grammar and punctuation, the situation is reversed. Once again, girls achieve stronger results. The problem of underachievement is also evident at the senior years. 

Last year’s Victorian year 12 results also illustrate gender imbalance, where the average Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) for girls was 70.6 compared with 67.62 for boys. In sought-after tertiary courses, the difference of a couple of points is critical. 

As noted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, based on 2020 figures, while 88 percent of girls stayed on to year 12, the figure for boys was only 79 percent. And 92 percent of women aged 20-24 had completed year 12 or certificate III or above, compare with 87 percent of men. 

While recent NAPLAN and ATAR results illustrate boys’ underperformance, the issue of gender imbalance is not a new one. In 2002, the then-minister for education, Brendan Nelson, commissioned an inquiry to investigate boys’ underachievement. 

Submissions to the inquiry noted that boys, compared to girls, needed a more highly structured, disciplined classroom environment where teachers are authority figures, learning is explicit, and students receive prompt assessment and feedback. 

The inquiry’s report, Boys: getting it right, concludes: “Boys tend to respond better to structured activity, clearly defined objectives and instructions, short-term challenging tasks and visual, logical and analytical approaches to learning. 

A shortage of male teachers to mentor and guide can adversely affect the performance of boys at school. 

As noted by research undertaken by the OECD, Australian classrooms have long since adopted a more open-ended, inquiry-based and process approach to learning and classroom interaction, where teachers are facilitators and assessment is less judgemental. 

The way reading is taught in the early years – where whole language has dominated, instead of the more structured and explicit phonics and phonemic awareness approach – best illustrates how current approaches to pedagogy better suit girls compared with boys. 

Learning to read is not as natural and easy as learning to talk, and while girls often find the whole language, look-and-guess approach worthwhile, boys struggle and easily become anxious and frustrated. 

This, however, is changing in primary schools with a more explicit, phonetic approach to learning to read being adopted. 

Reading Standards for Year 9 Boys at Record Low, NAPLAN Results Show 

In his book, Boys and Girls Learn Differently, the American social philosopher and academic, Michael Gurian makes the point – based on cognitive research and our understanding of brain development – that boys learn differently from girls, and this difference impacts what happens in the classroom. 

Gurian suggests girls develop verbal and linguistic skills earlier than boys, are better able to articulate feelings and emotions earlier than boys, and that boys favour deductive thinking compared with inductive. 

It is widely accepted that teachers act as mentors and are critical in influencing whether students are engaged and motivated. The fact that men constitute 22 percent of the teacher workforce, with the figure falling to 16 percent of primary school teachers, also helps explain boys’ underachievement.  

As noted by Sydney academic and education expert Peter West, the dearth of male teachers impacts how boys view education and their willingness to engage and do well. There’s an affinity between boys and male teachers, especially at the primary school level, that helps boys in their emotional and intellectual development. 

There needs to be greater emphasis on phonics and phonemic awareness, and more structured and explicit teaching and assessment styles. Attracting and retaining more male teachers to act as mentors and role models is a must. 

To argue that more needs to be done to help boys, especially in the critical areas of reading and writing, is not to ignore the fact that both boys and girls deserve an enriching and rewarding education. But the solution is to work towards a more balanced approach in the classroom. 

Kindest regards 

Mr Noel Nethery 

Acting Principal 


MRC Board Membership 

Anyone interested in becoming a member of the College Board, please express your interest to: 

Jennine Williams 

PA to the Principal 

Tel: (03) 6432 7612