Brown urges action on education gender gap

Gordon Brown last night called for action to tackle underachievement among boys, warning there was a real risk of a generation of young men being left behind.

The chancellor used the annual Donald Dewar memorial lecture in Glasgow to announce a review of how teaching methods and the curriculum could be better tailored to boys.

He also called for a “father’s revolution”, warning that with a three-fold increase in the number of single parent families in the last 30 years, many boys lacked male role models.

Last night’s speech saw the chancellor go beyond his normal Treasury responsibilities into the world of education, just as his speech on terrorism and security on Monday infringed considerably on the jurisdiction of home secretary John Reid.

It was the latest attempt by Mr Brown to set himself out as the natural successor to Tony Blair – a post for which he is still the bookies’ favourite – and will give the public more of an idea of what a Brown premiership would look like.

Last year just 51 per cent of boys achieved five good GCSEs, compared to 61 per cent of girls. Mr Brown said a more targeted approach at school was needed, including focusing on IT projects and activity-based lessons that engaged boys the most.

This was particularly important given the shift in the kind of jobs that are available, from manual and low-skilled to service sector and high-skilled work. Boys who struggled academically and had low aspirations could “easily feel excluded from a young age”.

“For many boys and young men this is a time of uncertainty – too many under-perform and some risk falling into the margins of our society, unable to play their full part as citizens, employees and future fathers,” Mr Brown said.

“We must never accept the existence of a wasted generation of boys.”

However, he stressed that although parents and schools could help solve this problem, they could not do it alone, saying: “Aspirations, expectations, the whole frame of reference for a young boy also come from the wider community that they grow up in.”

Mr Brown continued: “We need responsible parents and empowered local communities working in partnership with our great public institutions – schools, colleges, children’s centres – to provide a shared response.”

With this, the chancellor returned to one of his favourite themes, that of the resposniblity and rights of British citizens, and he set out his vision for social responsibility to counter that recently put forward by Conservative leader David Cameron.

“What the challenges we face – to ensure individual potential flourishes in a new world – have in common is that they cannot be successfully met either by government just pulling old levers or in a knee jerk reaction abandoning our great modern national institutions,” he said.

This last policy would leave individuals and communities “unaided to meet the challenges, using charities as some cut price alternative to government, instead of partners in a shared enterprise”, he argued.

The challenge was now to empower patients, parents, tenants and citizens to ensure that “this expansive idea of human potential, the untapped talents and abilities of people, can be realised”.