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Principal Investigator and Research Sponsor

Principal Investigator and Research Sponsor

Professor Brian Murphy

Dean of Academic Business Development

"The correlation between educational attainment and social mobility is well known; so too is the failure to eradicate entrenched social immobility. Our research seeks to break decades of leaving many boys and young men behind. This may mean change in policy; but it is most likely to involve changes in pedagogy and practice."


Established in 2006, Taking Boys Seriously (TBS) is a longitudinal research project committed to working alongside adolescent boys and educators to promote flourishing across diverse educational settings.

Originally funded by the departments of Education and Justice in Northern Ireland (2006-2012) TBS was subsequently re-invested in by the Widening Access and Participation department at Ulster University with a 10-year commitment from 2018 to 2028.

As a sustained investment in communities across Northern Ireland TBS has developed strong partnerships with local schools and youth centres as well as regional youth organisations and educational bodies.

Collaboration between the various strands of the formal and informal education sectors is a signature strength of the TBS participatory action research methodology.

Decades of research evidence a consistent trend where boys and young men from areas of socio-economic deprivation are more likely not to attain the aspirational minimum of 5 A*-C grades in national General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) qualifications.

Additionally, young men from these backgrounds are under-represented in Higher Education and for those who do enrol in university, a retention issue has been highlighted.

TBS adopts a strengths-based approach, working affirmatively with boys and educators to address multi-faceted issues behind the statistics.

Three threshold concepts have been generated through TBS which contextualises the research and shapes the unfolding research process:

  • Relational education

    TBS has found that meaningful relationships between boys and educators are crucial in facilitating engagement and holistic development in educational settings, particularly for boys and young men experiencing compounded educational disadvantage.

    The 10 TBS principles of relational education provide a framework for embedding relational work with boys.

  • Educational ecosystem

    This concept celebrates the unique gift that individuals and institutions across the whole pipeline of education from early years onwards can bring enabling boys to thrive.

    TBS promotes the collective capacities of communities and educational settings in advancing more equitable opportunities and outcomes for boys and young men experiencing compounded educational disadvantage.

  • Compounded educational disadvantage (CED)

    This highlights that certain boys and young men face greater barriers to educational success than others.

    Factors contributing to CED are contextual and in Northern Ireland include intersections of relative poverty, a selective education system, and narratives of hegemonic masculinity in a contested society.

Young Men’s Voices

TBS Holy Family YC
TBS Artillery YC
TBS Monkstown Boxing Club (students)
TBS Blessed Trinity College students
TBS Black Mountain Action Group

TBS Steering Group

An active and committed steering group are co-creators of the research representing a cross-section of the education system.

View Steering Group Members

TBS Conference 2021

TBS Educators

Blessed Trinity College
Belfast Boys Model School
Abbey Community College
Monkstown Boxing Club
Newstart Education Centre