Boys' underachievement, educational aspirations and constructions of locality

Paul Connolly, Julie Neill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Over recent years the moral panic that has surrounded 'boys' underachievement' has tended to encourage crude and essentialist comparisons between all boys and all girls and to eclipse the continuing and more profound effects on educational achievement exerted by social class and 'race'/ethnicity. While there are differences in educational achievement between working class boys and girls, these differences are relatively minor when comparing the overall achievement levels of working class children with those from higher, professional social class backgrounds. This paper argues that a need exists therefore for researchers to fully contextualise the gender differences that exist in educational achievement within the over-riding contexts provided by social class and 'race'/ethnicity. The paper provides an example of how this can be done through a case study of 11-year-old children from a Catholic, working class area in Belfast. The paper shows how the children's general educational aspirations are significantly mediated by their experiences of the local area in which they live. However, the way in which the children come to experience and construct a sense of locality differs between the boys and girls and this, it is argued, helps to explain the more positive educational aspirations held by some of the girls compared to the boys. The paper concludes by considering the relevance of locality for understanding its effects on educational aspirations among other working class and/or minority ethnic communities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-129
Number of pages22
JournalInternational Studies in Sociology of Education
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2001


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