Unique identity of boys’ schools celebrated at international conference

Issue: Volume 102, Number 10

Posted: 3 August 2023
Reference #: 1HAb6r

More than 600 educators from 15 countries and over 150 schools gathered at Westlake Boys’ High School in Auckland during the July school holidays for the 2023 IBSC annual conference.

Westlake Boys’ High School students were an integral part of the conference delivery.

Westlake Boys’ High School students were an integral part of the conference delivery.

For only the second time, the International Boys’ Schools Coalition (IBSC) has held their annual gathering in Aotearoa. The global organisation has about 280 member schools who share the goal of developing and educating boys.  

The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Kia Moemoeā: Dream Beyond Limits’, which aimed to motivate educators to develop and encourage boys to feel connected and engaged in their learning and with their community.  

Collegial conference  

The conference theme was ‘Kia moemoeā – Dream Beyond Limits’.

The conference theme was ‘Kia moemoeā – Dream Beyond Limits’.

New Zealand’s 47 boys’ schools represent an unusually high proportion of single-sex schools globally, says David Ferguson, headmaster of Westlake Boys’ High School.  

“We’re all trying to help our boys become terrific men when they leave school. And we can all learn a lot from each other. It’s not a competitive group: it’s a collegial, collaborative group. And the conference enables us to hear from other educators from all over the world who are dealing with the same things and the way in which they’re doing the best job they can in their own boys’ schools,” he told conference goers.  

Keynote speakers included Sir Ian Taylor, who spoke about STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) and digital opportunities, and Sir Graham Henry, who spoke about the culture of leadership.  

More than 100 workshops were held during the four-day conference on a wide variety of topics including: engaging boys; creating a climate of empathetic learning; enhancing the teaching and learning of maths; recognising indigenous voice in boys’ education; growing respectful relationships, and disrupting masculinity to promote gender equity.  

Sense of belonging  

Delegates thoroughly enjoyed the conference programme.

Delegates thoroughly enjoyed the conference programme.

The conference was an opportunity for educators and leaders from boys’ schools from around the world to learn and network.  

“We’ve been talking about both celebrating the strengths of boys’ schools and recognising the power that boys’ schools have in the lives of boys. And also looking at the challenges that are faced in education generally, but most particularly for boys’ education,” said Susan Hassall, headmaster of Hamilton Boys’ High School.  

She said that boys’ schools in New Zealand are blessed by being progressive as well as traditional and that two real strengths of boys’ schools are character values and high expectations.  

“There’s that strong sense of family and brotherhood and the fact that boys’ schools still offer a wide range of sporting opportunities. So, any young man has got the potential to be excellent and that flows back into the classroom. He’ll succeed academically as well because he feels connected and successful.  

“It crafts that sense of belonging and contributing to something bigger than themselves. That’s a huge part of what the boys’ schools movement is all about, that boys are giving to something that’s bigger than themselves.”  

Chris Post, chairman of the IBSC board and headmaster at The Boys’ Latin School in Maryland, USA, agreed with Susan about the unique value of boys’ schools.  

“I think for boys in schools today, there are so many societal messages that are negative. The context is one in which we know that outcomes for boys, by and large, are declining. There’s not the attendance in college persistence, unemployment rates, mental health issues and all the rest.  

“Boys’ schools offer a very different perspective – a hopeful, optimistic perspective. That’s the opportunity that boys’ schools and their educators have, and we never take it for granted. It’s incredibly humbling to be able to do this work,” he said.  

International connections  

World-class speakers covered a range of topics.

World-class speakers covered a range of topics.

Surendra Kulkarni, director of Mayo College, Rajasthan, India was himself an alumnus of his 150-year-old boys’ boarding school. He said that while the focus of the conference was on professional development, it was also a valuable opportunity for educators to learn about boys’ education in different cultures and countries.  

“The discussions that go on outside of the formal sessions are often very useful and informative with perspectives from different cultures and different parts of the world. India itself is a very diverse country, and my conversations in the last three days here, have revealed that people are curious to know about India, but very few are truly aware of it.  

“So, the need for much more interaction between schools, all over the world, would be very useful to understand how boys grow into men in the current context, in a very fast-changing and challenging world,” said Surendra.  

He pointed out that, with the large Indian diaspora, many CEOs of international corporations have Indian roots, which is an example of why it’s important that today’s students have interactions across cultures to ready them to face the world of tomorrow.  

“At the functional level, it’s very important that people have an intercultural understanding and intercultural respect, and the ability to leverage each other’s values and talents in a manner that benefits the whole.”  

Ideas were discussed further over lunch, served by Westlake Boys’ students.

Ideas were discussed further over lunch, served by Westlake Boys’ students.

Research focus  

Research is a key focus for IBSC, with around 40 researchers presenting their findings at the conference. This provided an opportunity to discuss and explore research and best practice to empower boys to be thought leaders in wellbeing, technology, diverse learning environments, resilience, and collaboration.  

The Association of Boys’ Schools of New Zealand (ABSNZ) has been collating comparative data for the past 12 years and the latest report collated achievement rates for NCEA, UE and international qualifications from approximately 155,000 male school leavers between 2017 and 2021. The data was collected from Education Counts in 2023 and compared achievement rates between male students at boys’ schools and those at coeducational schools.  

The report found that, compared to boys from coeducational schools, male school leavers at single sex schools:  

  • had higher achievement rates across all qualifications  
  • had higher achievement rates across all ethnic groups  
  • had higher achievement rates across all deciles, although some socioeconomic effects lessened the single-sex school advantage. 

The report notes that more investigation is required, as the data doesn’t show the possibility that the higher achievement rates may be affected by aspirational parents and students favouring some single sex schools because of their reputation for excellence.  

“Being a head of a boys’ school is a privilege and it’s easy, because the boys come with you. I think that’s our strength,” concludes Susan.

Plenary speakers delivered their message to all delegates in the school’s Auditorium.

Plenary speakers delivered their message to all delegates in the school’s Auditorium.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 1:30 pm, 3 August 2023

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