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School principals talk about ways to motivate, inspire and challenge boys


WHEN it comes to championing boys’ education, Balgowlah Boys Campus is a shining beacon.

The boys’ high school that struggled with low literacy and numeracy a decade ago is now one of the state’s high achievers.

It now boasts outstanding HSC and Naplan results, principal Paul Sheather said.

“We have been the top comprehensive boys’ school for four years and we have been placed 12th in the state for all comprehensive schools,” Mr Sheather said.

The push to raise academic standards started with the arrival of the Mackellar Girls’ former head of science eight years ago.

“I came to the school in 2008 with a vision around developing the curriculum so that it engaged boys in their learning,” he said.

Shorter lessons, specific reading material and literacy scheduled at 10.40am for peak concentration, resulted in outstanding HSC English grades last year.

Half of the year’s 40 advanced English students were awarded the top band.

“Twenty of our students received a band six and we were the best placed comprehensive school for HSC English … not bad for a boys’ school when girls have topped 70 per cent of HSC courses.”

One gender difference refuses to go away, Mr Sheather said.

“Boys are languishing academically; girls are soaring. This trend has obvious implications not only for boys’ intellectual development but for the national economy,” he said.

With three boys of his own — the youngest is in Year 12 — he knows that boys flourish when lessons are fast-paced and non-sedentary.

“Girls can sit through an 80-minute lesson. Boys can’t do this, so we changed the timetable. We have six 50-minute lessons,” he said.

“Evidence suggests that fidgeting helps teen boys to focus. Movement helps boys engage both sides of their brain.”

Boys engage when they can establish a rapport with the real person, not the teacher, he said. Prominent psychologist Steve Biddulph says that ‘boys learn teachers and not subjects’. This approach works particularly well through humour, Mr Sheather said.

As well as comprehensive Balgowlah Boys, the peninsula has two Catholic schools — St Paul’s College, a systemic boys high school in Manly and St Augustine’s College, the independent school in Brookvale, which educates boys from Year 5 to Year 12.

Pittwater House, the Collaroy private school, educates boys and girls separately before the gradual introduction of coeducation in Year 10.

Small classes, active learning and building relationships boosts confidence in boys, deputy principal James Walmsley said.


“Research shows that boys learn differently to girls. We structure and scaffold the type of learning to suit them,” he said.

“Boys need active learning and they perform well with games-based learning, role play and teamwork.”

Tim Cleary, principal of the northern beaches’ largest boys school, St Augustine’s College, stresses the importance of school life beyond the classroom.

Co-curricular activities, sport and pastoral care are essential components of the educational journey.

“Well-adjusted boys need more than a love of learning,” he said.

“The school provides a wonderful community and we offer an extensive sports program, as well as pastoral care, music, debating and drama.”

Mr Cleary, who is on sabbatical this term, took up his position at the school in 2002. In that time he has seen the school expand from 550 students to 1200 in 2016.

Similarly, staffing numbers have increased from 70 to 180.

Mr Cleary said that St Augustine’s has nurtured and educated his own boys.

“My boys went to the school and they loved it — I am very proud of that,” Mr Cleary said.

After 15 years as principal and with over 30 years as an educator, Mr Cleary is stepping down at the end of the year.

He has plans to take up a role in business, but he is also considering writing a book on boys’ education.

“Education has been my career. I have always been in boys’ education and I have a story to tell,” he said.