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Education: Peer pressure retards boys

SCHOOLBOYS WORSHIP the image of unemotional "hard men" such as Vinnie Jones - who are good at football and skimp at schoolwork - but it may hold them back academically, research suggests. The solution may be to split boys' classes into smaller groups so they can express themselves and not be worried by peer pressure, says Dr Anne Phoenix of Birkbeck College, London.

"The message we got from talking to boys aged 11 to 14 is that you can't be masculine and be seen to work hard at school," Dr Phoenix said yesterday. "Other boys, and even teachers, see high-achieving boys as somehow effeminate."

Schoolboys - who are otherwise "emotionally illiterate", and find girls mystifying because they cry - do find women, either their mothers or female friends, to be useful confidantes for personal matters. "Evidence from older boys shows that having long-term girlfriends makes them able to discuss emotional issues."

The problem of would-be macho boys was identified in 1977. But in those days, Dr Phoenix said, boys who left school with poor qualifications could still go into manual jobs. "But now, if they don't work at school, they won't be in a job that pays at all."