A Strong Voice for Croydon Central - Gavin Barwell MP
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What can we do to get boys reading again?
02/07/2012 11:31:00


By the time they reach school, many boys are already lagging behind in literacy: at age five, there is a gap of 11 percentage points between boys’ and girls’ achievement in reading. More and more boys struggle with reading and literacy as they progress through the school system and by age 16 girls are matching, or more often outperforming, boys in every GCSE subject except for construction. Boys are also less likely to enjoy reading and less likely to spend time reading outside of class.

I chair the Boys’ Reading Commission and we have found that while this literacy gender gap has been around for a very long time, the issue is becoming more pressing. The National Literacy Trust’s survey of schools across the country carried out for the Commission this year found that three quarters of schools are worried about boys’ underachievement in reading, while the gap between how much boys and girls enjoy reading or choose to spend time reading is widening.

Literacy is a significant issue for all: a recent CBI study found that many employers are having to provide basic skills training for their school leaver recruits and the Government has rightly focused on ensuring all young children have the necessary decoding skills.

However, specific action is required to address the gender issue. Boys with poor literacy will struggle at school and throughout life. We need to act to ensure all our children fulfil their potential and contribute to making the UK economy globally competitive.

So what is making boys more likely to struggle with reading? The Commission has found it is not biological and therefore not inevitable. Not all boys struggle with reading and while the literacy gender gap is seen internationally, there are notable exceptions including Chile and the Netherlands. Something we are doing as a society is making boys more likely to fail at reading.

The Commission has found that the gender gap begins in the home, with parents supporting boys very differently from girls. In school, what is taught and how it is taught and assessed all impacts on boys’ achievement, while boys’ gender identities, influenced by society’s expectations and reinforced by their peers, can negatively impact on their attitudes to reading, the amount of time they spend reading and ultimately their reading skills. Unfortunately it is those boys who are least likely to be socially mobile who are often most vulnerable to these triggers.

The gender gap is certainly a complex issue - there's no silver bullet or one-size-fits-all solution. The good news is that initiatives to address boys’ reading will in most cases also support girls who are disengaged and struggling with their reading.

I hope the Commission’s report will help to raise wider awareness of this issue and inspire parents across the country, as well as informing the teachers and librarians who are already working hard to meet this challenge.

You can download the full report from the National Literacy Trust website.

Comment on this blog


Readers' Comments

On 02/07/2012 12:16:00 MMansfield wrote:
I taught both of our sons to read using a phonic scheme which incorporated games which I had to make from cereal boxes and an Argos catalogue! I did this because the eldest was asking what words said long before he was due to go to school. The youngest wasn't quite so ready but I tried anyway. They are both still reading for pleasure in their 20's.

We read to them every bed time and sometimes during the day as well if they wanted a story. Regular visits to the library helped too. However I think the biggest factor in them both becoming fairly avid readers is that they saw both of us reading at home, so for them it was a normal thing that adults of both sexes do.

If parents want their children, of either sex, to read they need to put in some effort themselves, and not leave it to school.

On 04/07/2012 22:29:00 Robert Gibson wrote:
I'm very pleased that you are addressing this urgent subject of improving boys' literacy but find it desperately sad that in the same week you are addressing what we can do to get boys reading again you seem to see no irony in your former Council colleagues and employees attacking Upper Norwood Joint Library. They seem to have taken a perverse pride in undermining this thriving library and dumping 112 years of proud history of Croydon working with Lambeth to fund the library which serves the people of Crystal Palace. How can they take satisfaction in removing reference to it in the constitution?

Improving libraries and increasing involvement has got to play a major role in addressing this problem. So why would you not try to stop the undermining of one of the most successful libraries in both Croydon and Lambeth.

I hope the answer is not petty political vindictiveness. Lambeth is working increasingly closely with Tory flagship borough Wandsworth why can’t Croydon emulate this sensible mature approach?

On 04/07/2012 23:01:00 martin wilson wrote:
Maybe keeping libraries open would help,ever been to Crystal Palace mate?
On 05/07/2012 22:06:00 Cathy Ferri wrote:
Not closing the libraries may help!
On 10/07/2012 14:56:00 C Marlow wrote:
I'm not a parent, but many factors must be at play, not least a stable home with dedicated parents and schools where teachers inspire students to 'be all they can be'. I was fortunate enough to come from such a background but still read books to 'escape' for a few hours.

The majority of children seem to aspire to be like the 'celebrities' they see on the TV and read about in the press, so the 'will' to do something is already there e.g. take the time to research the latest trends, what their favourite celebrity has been up to etc. Is a small part of the answer giving children well written, engaging stories with role models they can relate/aspire to, underpinned by strong values (especially 'right and wrong')?

On 13/07/2012 18:51:00 Graham Smith wrote:
I would like to assist in this project. I would be happy to volunteer as a reading mentor for children in my local area.

On 13/07/2012 22:57:00 Laura Henry wrote:
I am an early years consultant/trainer working across the UK and internationally and more importantly the mother of two teenage boys.

One of my training courses is called Dinosaurs and Dolls, were I explore gender differences, especially in supporting boys with their learning. It is essential that the early learning environment for boys challenges them and promotes their learning. Crucially, the adults who work with boys should follow their interests and provide a range of resources that promote early writing and reading. For example, if a boy’s current interest is trains, then the adult should extend this interest, for example, provide a range of train time tables, story and reference books on trains and visit train stations. A selection of pencils and paper should also be available to encourage boys to write and draw about their experiences.




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