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Boys’ reading skills ‘must be tackled’

Boys’ reading skills ‘must be tackled’

BBC |July 1, 2012

By Hannah Richardson BBC News education reporter


The reading gap between boys and girls in England is widening but there is no official strategy to address it, a report says.

The All-Party Parliamentary Literacy Group Commission says some boys find reading “nerdish” and receive less parental encouragement than girls.

It calls for action in schools, home and communities.

The government said it was focusing on getting every child to read using phonics and reading for enjoyment.

The Boys’ Reading Commission took evidence from teachers, 226 schools and 21,000 young people in the UK .

Its report, compiled by the National Literacy Trust, found that although there had been improvements in boys’ reading since the National Literacy Strategy was introduced in 1998, in recent years the gender gap had started to widen again.

Last year, 80% of boys reached the expected level in reading at age 11 compared with 88% of girls.

In the early years of secondary school the gap widens further, with boys outstripped by girls in English by 12 percentage points at age 14.

Last year, 59% of boys achieved an A* to C in English GCSE compared to 73% of girls.

The findings also suggest girls are enjoying reading more than boys and that this difference has been intensifying in recent years.

‘Victims of the system?’

The report also notes that gaps in achievement between the genders have been tackled before.

It says: “During the 1970s and 1980s, the consistent underperformance of girls in maths and science was a major concern.

“While these issues have been successfully addressed, concerns have shifted to the underperformance of boys in reading and English.”

But it adds: “However, there is evidence of the literacy gender gap has been around for some time, with girls outperforming boys for perhaps as long as 60 years.”

The commission suggests it is the interplay of the school system, the home environment and gender identity that can have a negative impact on boys’ reading.

But it notes that many boys experience no literacy difficulties at all and that concepts which label all boys as “victims of the system” should be avoided.


Commission chairman Gavin Barwell MP said specific action to address the gender issue was required.

He said: “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.”

Expert witnesses to the inquiry raised concerns about the teaching of reading which places an exclusive emphasis on decoding words through synthetic phonics.

Contributors including former children’s laureate Michael Rosen stressed the importance of encouraging the enjoyment of reading.

The commission also examined the influence of the home environment on reading ability.

It cites earlier research which suggests parents do not support boys in their reading to the same extent as they support girls.

This is backed up by National Literacy Trust research which found that boys are less likely to be given books as presents.

Children’s author Michael Morpurgo said: “The problem is cultural and deep-seated, therefore unlikely to be resolved quickly. The effort to turn things round has to be multi-faceted and has to be sustained over decades.”

Schools minister Nick Gibb said: “Reading for pleasure is key to boosting a young person’s life chances. As a government, improving reading standards in schools is central to all our education reforms.

“Through phonics we are ensuring all children learn the mechanics of reading early in their school career.

“Helping children to develop a love of reading and a habit of reading for pleasure every day is key to ensuring we have well educated and literate young people by the time they leave school.”

The National Union of Teachers’ general secretary Christine Blower said gender was a significant factor, but not the only one at play in determining performance in and attitudes to reading.

She added: “As the inquiry recognised, school libraries and dedicated school librarians also play a key role in fostering the interest of all children in a wide range of books and reading materials.

“With the pressure on school places in many areas school are closing their libraries and losing the expertise which has long supported children’s reading.”

She also called for the early reading curriculum, with its intense focus on phonics, to be less prescriptive.


Britain’s private schools ‘have lost their moral purpose’

Britain’s private schools ‘have lost their moral purpose’

guardian.co.uk |by Daniel Boffey on June 30, 2012

Anthony Seldon

Anthony Seldon, seen at Wellington College, doesn’t think private schools want to help the state sector. Photograph: Frank Baron for the Guardian

Anthony Seldon, the leading headteacher tasked by the prime minister with encouraging independent schools to sponsor state academies, has expressed his frustration at the lack of enthusiasm among his private sector colleagues, warning that they have “lost their moral purpose”.

Seldon, a biographer of Tony Blair and master of Wellington College, in Berkshire, said persuading public schools to get involved in the academies programme had been “the most frustrating  challenge” of his life.

But in a blow to David Cameron’s plans for public schools to pass on their expertise to state schools, Seldon has concluded after a year working on the project that “the reality is that most governing bodies don’t want to bond with state schools. They put up spurious reasons such as parental objections for masterly inactivity.”

Seldon was invited by Cameron to join forces with Lord Adonis, the former Labour education minister, last autumn to head the drive for collaboration between the independent sector and the state sector. At the time, Cameron said that the sponsorship of academies represented a “great way” for independent schools to fulfil their “charitable purpose”.

Wellington College, whose boarding fees are about £30,000 a year, has already established an academy and plans to unveil three more in the next year. Eton College, the prime minister’s alma mater, is also said to have “plans afoot, as have a small number of other independent schools”, according to Seldon. Two, he said, are on the verge of announcing plans and 30 are examining the feasibility of projects. But today, in an outspoken intervention, Seldon expresses his disappointment at the response of many public schools to the invitation to share ideas with the state sector, which he says would help all involved.

And, despite trumpeting the value of public schools to the UK historically, he complains that the independent sector appears happy to stay in “splendid isolation”. He writes: “The pace of change since has been agonisingly slow. Cameron charged a small group of us, including Andrew Adonis, to encourage independent schools down the academy sponsorship path.”

He adds: “Leadership from the independent sector has been sadly lacking and it has failed to provide an inspiring moral vision for us in the 21st century.”

Seldon said that in many ways, including “teaching, learning and leadership”, the state sector was ahead of the independent sector. Yet many public schools seemed blind to the value and necessity of sharing experiences and bringing pupils of different backgrounds together, he added.

Seldon’s comments will provoke fresh criticism of the Charities Commission, which ruled last week that public schools would no longer be forced to provide free or subsidised places to remain in business and can hang on to millions of pounds worth of tax breaks.

New guidance from the commission says that organisations will be required to provide benefits that are “more than minimal or tokenistic”. But the draft guidelines makes it clear that schools will be given more freedom to decide how to open up to the poor without necessarily providing free places.

Seldon writes that he believes the independent sector should embrace the academies programme in order to offset the critique that “Britain is becoming a less equal society, and independent schools are key in making it so”.

He writes: “Political reality further dictates the need for independent schools to wake up. In case they hadn’t noticed, neither Cameron nor [Michael] Gove, nor the Conservative party, have time for them as they are currently configured, still less do the Liberal Democrats or Labour, who might be in power from 2015. The public climate has moved decisively against their current stance too. Complaining of injustice is missing the point.

“They need to get on the front foot and sponsor academies, or join in federations of state schools. “

Seldon added: “British independent schools in the 21st century have lost their moral purpose. They lead the world in exams, but they are like faith in Matthew Arnold’s poem Dover Beach, with their authority retreating in a ‘melancholy, long withdrawing roar’. “Leadership and courage are needed from public schools – two of their core virtues.”

Nick Clegg launches school careers talk volunteer scheme

Nick Clegg launches school careers talk volunteer scheme

guardian.co.uk |by Andrew Sparrow on July 1, 2012

Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg says the ‘power of making connections that inspire young people is immeasurable’. Photograph: Rex Features

Workers willing to give careers talks to pupils are being encouraged to volunteer via a scheme being launched by Nick Clegg.

The initiative is designed to help state schools match those in the independent sector, where 80% of pupils regularly hear talks about career opportunities from external speakers.

Research for the Education and Employers Taskforce, a charity running the scheme, suggests pupils who have contact with employers at school will go on to earn 16% more on average than pupils who do not have the same opportunities.

Clegg said: “Too many young people get the message that the best jobs are not for them. Inspiring the Future will give state school students the chance to see, hear and make a connection with someone in a career or job they might not have thought about.

“Today we’re calling on doctors, nurses, lawyers, builders, businesspeople, civil servants, farmers, mechanics, engineers and other working people to give up just an hour of their time to talk to students in their local state school about how they got where they are today. The power of making connections that inspire young people is immeasurable and can be life-changing.”

Volunteers and schools can register at inspiringthefuture.org. Organisers aim to recruit 100,000 volunteers.

Sir Roger Carr, president of the CBI, one of the organisations supporting the scheme, said: “There is nothing more compelling for young people thinking about their future careers than meeting and speaking to inspirational people who do the jobs they are considering.”

Clegg is launching the scheme at an event in Tower Hamlets, London, attended by some of initiative’s celebrity backers including the actor Joanna Lumley, the businesswoman and Apprentice star Karren Brady and the head chef at the Ivy, Gary Lee.

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