In recent years, there has been an increase in working class boys underachieving and forming negative subcultures in school. These subcultures have involved retreatism and rebellious behaviors including excessive expression of misogynistic values, alcoholism, sex culture, racism, and homophobia. These boys wish to maintain ‘traditional’ hegemonic masculinity through showing ‘strength’ and internalized misogyny.
With an increase in the number of girls achieving at least 5 A*-C GCSE grades, 71.4% compared with 59.9% of boys, a shift in educational achievement might be having an effect on the way that boys behave among each other and in mixed social environments. The boys who are underachieving at GCSE level is in general decline – this includes black Caribbean boys who are among the most undereducated in the UK. Despite this, those boys who are white British and eligible for free school meals (FSM) are underperforming considerably with 23.8% of them achieving 5 A*-C GCSEs in 2013/14.
For many of the working-class subgroups, school has become feminized and focuses upon ‘traditional feminine’ values rather than traditional ‘masculine’ ones. The increase of feminist values throughout society means a much larger focus on girls in the education system. But with the emergence of this, there was less focus on those traditional ‘masculine’ traits such as competition and leadership as were spouted in the 1970s. And so, whilst GCSEs have become increasingly more exam based, the number of boys who wish to keep their ‘masculinity’ has grown- especially among the working classes and young black boys, resulting in a pack mentality forming anti-school subcultures surrounding hegemonic masculinity and sexism.
Teachers labeling students in schools (primary and secondary), also contributes to the formation of rebel subcultures and exacerbates underachievement. Teachers stereotype working class boys through appearance, through their parents, and through personal school records. Holding negative stereotypes towards the working-class results in them being labeled as ‘stupid’ or being treated as such. Due to girls achieving more in general, most of this stereotyping falls onto boys, meaning that teachers continuously view working class boys as far from the ‘ideal pupil’ (white, middle class). Teachers do not hold the belief that these students can improve their academic ability. Working class boys have since become engaged in behaving sexist towards girls, violent and homophobic due to feeling unaccepted and polarized and so we see a reinforcement of pack mentality once these boys feel like they belong in a group.
School setting and streaming structures also keep the negative societal and school subcultures alive. By being placed in lower sets, these boys continuously engage with other underachieving students, meaning that an element of a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ arises in which the school believes they will underachieve, so these boys to believe they will underachieve or fail, then do. Forming a pack mentality in which white working-class boys feel accepted among each other, forms a dislike to those who work hard, girls and those of the middle and upper classes. This results in bullying, violence, and misogyny towards girls; the predicating values of this culture. Smoking and engaging in alcoholism at an immature age result from ending up in the ‘wrong crowd’ and continue to polarize themselves from achieving groups in society.
Education policy and differentiating education funding around the country has reinforced and form negative subcultures that differentiate working class boys in school and in society from other people. Changing this starts with changing not only school structural values but also the values of teachers towards the working class in general to change societal values of these boys. But with the new wave of grammar schools coming Britain’s way class achievement gaps are only likely to widen.
By Tammara Lesko
Facebook: Tammara Lesko