Teenage boys more likely to struggle with remote learning than girls, MPs told

Teenage boys are likely to struggle more with remote learning during school closures as they thrive from group interactions and may be more tempted to turn to video gaming, MPs have heard.

Remote learning is a “real concern” as boys are likely to be at a greater disadvantage as they are not used to sitting in front of a computer to study, the founder of a male mentoring service for boys has said.

Sonia Shaljean, managing director of Lads Need Dads, a not-for-profit community interest company in Essex, said boys are more inclined to turn to gaming as remote education does not work for them.

Addressing the education select committee, she told MPs: “They’ve got natural impulsivity, spatial kinaesthetic learning styles, and a physical energy that’s just not suited to remote learning.

“I feel when we go to review this that actually boys are going to be at a greater disadvantage because of this way of learning which they’re not naturally suited to. Girls are more suited to this way of learning.”

When asked what the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been on disadvantaged white pupils, Ms Shaljean said: “Conflict in the home is a big deal, I mean because boys don’t work well with remote learning they’re more inclined to do gaming so there’s a real conflict there because if mums who are single parents have to go to work, they’re often leaving their teenage son unsupervised for long periods of time in the day when normally they would be at school receiving support and education.

“So that’s a real concern for me, particularly for single-parent families, because they still have to keep going during this pandemic, they still have to go to work a lot of them.”

On the impact of school closures on children, Louisa Reeves, head of impact and evidence at children’s communication charity I CAN, suggested boys’ language and communication had been affected.

She said: “Particularly for adolescent boys they need to have that peer group interaction.

“There’s a lot of socialising that children are missing out on at the moment across the age range and I think that’s going to have a huge impact not only in terms of their wellbeing at the moment, but in terms of their ability to form relationships, to work together, to have all of those kind of soft communication skills that we look for in the workforce, particularly in the 21st century.”

During the inquiry into the outcomes of white working-class pupils, several Conservative MPs challenged the head of children’s charity Barnardo’s over a guide for parents on how to explain white privilege to their children.

It came after the blog post, first published on the Barnardo’s website in October, sparked anger last month after it included dos and don’ts for parents and examples of what “everyday white privilege” looks like.

Tom Hunt, Conservative MP for Ipswich, said the guide for parents on the “divisive” topic had provoked anger.

“I think there probably are a lot of children and families who are struggling enormously who find it somewhat ironic to be sent a guide about their own privilege,” he said.

Tory MP Rob Halfon, chairman of the education select committee, said the charity made a “grave mistake” with the guide for parents and he added that it was “not acceptable”.

He said: “I just think that this is a huge mistake that you’ve made to present it in the way that you have done. I think it’s wrong. I think it’s insulting to disadvantaged white people in my constituency.”

Dr Javed Khan, chief executive at Barnardo’s, said the blog post had been taken out of context in a number of social media posts and he had experienced “racist abuse” as a result.

He told MPs: “The term ‘white privilege’ I agree with you is not an ideal phrase. I personally don’t like it either. For some people it creates barriers. I’m talking about people who want to engage with the debate, they want to learn, they want to contribute to creating a more harmonious society in this great country of ours, but they find it difficult to get past that phrase. So I get that.

“However, as you will know, it’s a phrase that is commonly used at the moment. Ever since the killing of George Floyd from mainstream children’s media, like CBBC Newsround, to Radio 4 to local councils where we operate, all talk about white privilege and it’s in that context that we’ve used that phrase.”