College principal says praise for the boys can help the girls too

Mark Cottingham, principal of Shirebrook Academy
Mark Cottingham, principal of Shirebrook Academy

The school generated a lot of local interest last month with its Boys Will Be Brilliant display, writes Mark Cottingham, principal at Shirebrook Academy.

This was a wall of fame designed to celebrate the achievements of the school’s male students.

Amongst the feedback was both praise and accusations of sexism.

I do understand this, although what didn’t make the news were other displays in school, including separate STEM and computer science displays which celebrate female achievement.

I have no problem with gendered campaigns but they need to be targeted and appropriate.

We have all heard of the This Girl Can campaign, designed to encourage more girls into sport, and there is also a campaign encourage more female students to pursue maths, engineering and technology subjects.

These campaigns exist because both sport and science are viewed traditionally as male subjects.

No-one would argue that this inequality doesn’t need addressing, but there are many types of inequality, including in schools where, on average, white working class boys perform worse than girls at GCSE level.

There may be various reasons for this, including society’s cultural expectations which give boys more leeway to be mischievous, to crack jokes and mess around and to be less careful with the presentation of their work.

That Boys Will Be Brilliant wall is trying to change beliefs and show everyone that achievement, not notoriety, is cool for boys.

Is this sexist? I don’t believe it is, because girls and boys alike benefit if the boys are on message and achieving their potential.