Caring about Disruptive Boys

By Dr Prudence Black

As academics, we care about the audiences for our research and the value of what we do. A blog provides us with the opportunity for ‘conversational scholarship’ (Gregg 2006) and to share new ideas and information to a broader audience. A blog also allows us to tease out an idea or start a discussion. The Feminist Boys Studies group is in the process of thinking about practical ways that teachers can help boys, especially in the early years of schooling.

With this in mind, late in 2022 I set aside a newspaper article, where the SA Education Minister Blair Boyd had created a small publicity storm when he stated he wanted his department to review cases where prosecution might be justified in relation to long term absenteeism (Lauren Novak, ‘Selfish parents face court for keeping kids home,’ The Advertiser, August 26 2022).

This set me wondering about the gendered nature of absenteeism and it sent me to a 2020 report, the Inquiry into Suspension, Exclusion and Expulsion Process in South Australian Government Schools. It stated that ‘boys were overrepresented in suspensions (compared to girls) during the years 2010 to 2019. For example, boys accounted for 79.3% of all suspension in 2019 (a 2% increase from 2010) (Inquiry into Suspension, 2020, 297).

The main reasons for suspensions were disruptive behaviour, disengaged behaviour, rules violation, property destruction, written/verbal threats, bullying and harassment, sexual acts/behaviour, physical acts (major) drugs and other criminal activities. Boys were overrepresented in all these categories except for drugs where they accounted for 55.5%, that is, within 10% of their distribution in the population.

Among the statistics was the finding that boys are more likely to be suspended for one or two days while girls are more likely than boys to be suspended for three, four or five days, indicating they may be suspended for more serious incidents than boys, or not being suspended for less serious incidents.

For our group studying boys, these results hold no real surprises. One of the main reasons for absenteeism is disruptive behaviour and Linda J. Graham, one of the authors of the 2020 report, has looked into boys and disruptive behaviour in a separate study (Graham 2016). Her study was based on boys who had been placed in special schools because of severely disruptive behaviour.  In the article she argues that value judgements are being made about the boys that are seldom based on evidence (Graham 2016: 117) and that 30% of the boys in the study nominated teachers as the reason they started to dislike school. Graham makes the claim that teachers might not have the right approach to care when it comes to these boys, and students in general. This is not questioning that many teachers do care when it comes to their students, but the type of care they offer is a care that students do their work so they can learn and succeed at school. This is a type of ‘care as virtue’ or ‘caring about’ while most students respond to ‘relational care’ or ‘caring for.’ (Graham 2016: 119). Her findings include that with the right type of care ‘teachers can make a difference by paying more attention, being less biased and providing boys who begin to experience difficulties in school and with learning with more understanding and help.’ (Graham 2016: 129).

The Feminist Boys Studies group would like to build on Graham’s and others’ work and prepare a package of practical strategies for teachers and parents thinking about varieties of caring responses, then follow up by observing these strategies being used in schools. In particular we would like to address some of the patterns mentioned above taking care not to reinforce stereotypes about gendered learning styles and behaviours.



Linda J. Graham, Tony McCarthy, Callula Killingly, Haley Tancredi and Shiralee Poed, (2020). Inquiry into Suspension, Exclusion and Expulsion Process in South Australian Government Schools: Final Report, Centre for Inclusion, QUT, Brisbane.

Linda J. Graham, (2016). ‘Schoolwork’ and ‘Teachers’: Disaffected Boys Talk About Their Problems with School’ in A. Sullivan et al (eds.) Challenging Dominant Views on Student Behaviour at School. Springer, pp: 115-132.

Melissa Gregg, (2006). ‘Feeling Ordinary: Blogging as Conversational Scholarship’, Continuum: Journal of Media and Communication Studies. 20 (2).