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Conference to discuss educational needs of bo -

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Conference to discuss educational needs of boys

Reporter: Natasha Johnson

KERRY O'BRIEN: In a complex debate over the way we're raising and educating children these days,
one pattern is inescapable. Boys dominate in all the worst statistics - suicide, accident and
imprisonment, just to name a few. Research is increasingly linking these health and social problems
with poor education, and on almost every measure boys are doing worse than girls at school. Reason
enough for about 800 teachers, academics and researchers to meet in Melbourne this week to nail the
problem and find solutions. Among the research being announced at the conference is the story of a
Newcastle high school that has achieved a dramatic turnaround in behavioural problems and truancy
among its Year 7 boys. Natasha Johnson reports.

NATASHA JOHNSON: It looks likes after-school entertainment, but car racing is a classroom
assignment at Hunter Sports High School in Newcastle. The boys are interested. They're having fun,
and they're behaving themselves. But it hasn't always been the case here. Just 12 months ago,
soaring rates of violence, truancy and suspensions brought the school to crisis point.

PAUL TRACEY, PRINCIPAL, HUNTER SPORTS HIGH SCHOOL: While it certainly wasn't a case where the
playground was a war zone, it certainly was intimidating for new people who came into the school.
It was niggly. There was a lot of bullying, a lot of verbal harassment. We felt that that was
caused in a lot of ways by kids who were not being engaged by their learning.

NATASHA JOHNSON: Principal Paul Tracey knew he had to take drastic action but the results were

PAUL TRACEY: Our suspension rate down is down by some 30 per cent. Incidents of violence are down
by nearly 50 per cent. Attendance rate are up on average by 3.8 per cent, but within the sevens and
eights demographics by over 5 per cent.

NATASHA JOHNSON: Located in one of the most socially and economically disadvantaged areas in the
country, Hunter Sports High School ranked below the State average on every academic level. While
it's a co-educational school, students can study one of 11 sports alongside traditional subjects,
and that swelled the school population to two-thirds male, many of whom were bored and behaving

DEBORAH HARTMAN, BOYS IN SCHOOLS PROGRAM: There are subtle differences between the way boys and
girls like to learn, and if boys don't get to learn in the ways they like, then they're more likely
to disrupt, they're more likely to say, "I've had enough of this, I'm out of here." Deborah Hartman
runs a program at the university of Newcastle which helps schools become more boy-friendly. She
worked with Hunter Sports High School on a program targeted at its worst-performing students, Year
7 boys, and this week, she's trumpeting the school's stunning success at the "Working with Boys,
Building Fine Men" conference in Melbourne.

DEBORAH HARTMAN: In every boy, no matter how difficult, there are strengths there.

NATASHA JOHNSON: While she attacked the problem from many different angles, one key strategy was
developing a different teaching style for boys and girls.

DEBORAH HARTMAN: Boys are much more likely to want to be physical and active, and they're much more
likely to want to interact with other people, and they particularly don't like doing the same thing
over and over and over, like copying from the board or notes or something like that.

NATASHA JOHNSON: In this design and technology class, students are building cars to race. In their
other subjects, like English and science, they'll do assignments related to the car project. It's
an example of how the school is tapping into their interests, and their desire to learn in a
hands-on way and it's certainly won over the students.

GLENN TRONC, YEAR 7 STUDENT: In primary, there wasn't enough activities. All they did was, like,
you would sit there and they just wouldn't take you out for PE or anything, we just had to do work,
work, work.

BRYCE RUSSELL, YEAR 7 STUDENT: Listen to one teacher the whole time, it just gets really annoying.
You get bored a bit.

NATASHA JOHNSON: Bryce Russell would rather kick a soccer ball than read a book. Until now, his
school experience has been one of increasing alienation, which left him depressed and withdrawn.

BRYCE RUSSELL: I wasn't really wanting to go in the morning. I got up and just sat on the lounge
and just didn't feel up to going.

STEWART RUSSELL, FATHER: We were worried that, you know, if it didn't change or get better, things
would go bad and he could end up anywhere, with drugs, that sort of thing, those sort of problems.
His education was going downhill. He wasn't getting brilliant marks or anything. If it had
continued, it would have been bad.

NATASHA JOHNSON: How do you feel every morning when you get up now?

BRYCE RUSSELL: I get up and I get ready straightaway and just head off. It's a lot better.

NATASHA JOHNSON: So you look forward to coming to school now?


NATASHA JOHNSON: Such a dramatic turnaround in attitude and motivation has amazed his parents.

STEWART RUSSELL: He's keen to come here. He is keen to do his homework, whereas before he was
reluctant to do it. And when he is doing his assignments now, he is getting good marks for 'em.
Above 80 per cent passes or higher.

NATASHA JOHNSON: While studying his favourite sport as part of the curriculum has boosted Bryce's
enthusiasm for school, his father also credits the innovative approaches to teaching, and a push to
get dads more involved in their sons' education. The school encourages fathers or other adult men
to help out in the classroom. The aim is to foster the boys' interest in learning and provide
positive role models. Particularly because of the high number of students from single-parent
families and the declining number of male teachers nationally.

DEBORAH HARTMAN: Women are fine teachers of boys, that's not the issue. But the issue is if a boy
goes through his whole school career and doesn't see a man in that situation, what is that telling
him about men and learning? What is that teaching him about how he, as a man, should approach
learning? It's the hidden curriculum.

NATASHA JOHNSON: Stewart Russell embraced the school's invitation and even volunteers in the
canteen. He knows too well the consequences of not being involved in his son's school life. His
previous job in the army meant frequent absences during elder son Gareth's secondary schooling.

STEWART RUSSELL: He was sort of teased and bullied at school and didn't have me there to help him
over those problem times. Psychologically it affected him. His school work went down. He didn't
have that interest that Bryce has now, unfortunately.

BRYCE RUSSELL: It's pretty good, 'cause he helps me out but he also helps everyone else out, don't


NATASHA JOHNSON: All this attention on boys at Hunter Sports High School begs the question: what
about the girls? But Paul Tracey argues they're benefiting both from the settled learning
environment that's followed boys behaving themselves and the new teaching styles.

PAUL TRACEY: I think a lot of us, a lot of schools used a one-size fits all approach. I would say
boys have been no less left out than, say, girls, but we haven't catered necessarily for the
preferred learning styles of students.

NATASHA JOHNSON: While Hunter Sports High School has so far only overhauled its Year 7 classes,
Paul Tracey is planning to extend the programs throughout the whole school community.

PAUL TRACEY: We're here for kids. That's our number one job. We're here to make things better for
kids, to provide the best opportunity for them to succeed.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Not a bad philosophy. That report from Natasha Johnson.