Girls vs. Boys: Is there a Gender Gap in Education?

One of my first independent research studies I conducted whilst doing my PGCE was looking at how I could engage boys with reading. Every school I’ve taught at since has had reading programs for boys and ‘boy-focused’ texts on the agenda for department meetings. I’ve always been interested in why it is that boys read less… is there a gender gap in education?

Why do boys read less and is it true?

Creative and imaginative play has been traditionally associated with girls. This trend appears to continue through to adolescence. Data from this year’s A-level results show that boys represent the minority in a variety of subjects. For instance, performing and expressive arts, sociology and English literature (James Carr, Freddie Whittaker, Aug 2020).

Research shows that girls are now 14% more likely to pass English and maths GCSE than boys (School League Tables Team, Feb 2020). Moreover, the NTL found that children have on average been reading more throughout lockdown with 1 in 2 (46.3%) saying that they had read new books.

Has lockdown affected reading habits for boys and girls?

Unfortunately, lockdown hasn’t had a positive influence on both genders. NTL found that the literacy engagement gap has increased from 2.3% at the beginning of 2020 to 11.5%. The gender gap in daily reading also widened during lockdown. It increased from a 4.3% difference at the beginning of 2020 to a 7.4%. So, what can we do to get our boys back on track?

During my teaching I have found that many of my male students thoroughly enjoyed non-fiction texts. To quote one of my students, ‘if it’s not real Miss, I’m not interested’. The texts I struggled to engage most of boys with was poetry. That is unless it was a heavily violent war poem or one with explosive profanities. Although, I will say that poetry is something few students enjoyed so I think it may be a little unfair to single out boys with this one.

I truly believe that there is a reader hiding in all of us, regardless of gender

After all, books know no boundaries and have a wealth of enjoyment to offer. Even for the most reluctant of readers.

As we all know, each child is an individual. This is by no means is an exclusive list but here are some methods I have used to get my male learners switched on or (mildly) enthusiastic about reading:

1. Use male role models as inspiration

Sseeing is believing. A quick google search will find you with a plethora of images of influential celebrities reading (Rio Ferdinand, Obama, Tom Hardy, Snoop Dogg, Lebron James to name a few). Or even better, highlight the positive male role models in the family and encourage them to take a supportive role in their son’s education. Show them that it’s simply not true that boys read less.

2. A little non-fiction goes a long way

If your son is reluctant to get into novels or ‘story books’, why not buy them a subscription to an appropriate newspaper, magazine or comic (The Week Junior, Beano, National Geographic)? Over time, the act of reading will become enjoyable and once they become more confident you can introduce short and engaging novels. Boys read less because they haven’t found the right type of books.

3. Make it a habit

Make sure that books your son would be interested in reading are available to him at any time. Moreover, let them choose the books that populate their shelf. The gift of choice makes their engagement and inclination immediately spike.

4. Make reading relevant

Your son’s experience of reading may only be the ones prescribed to him by his teacher. Although I may be bias, most teachers nowadays should make regular connections between the need to read in order to develop sufficient literacy skills for later life. Make connections to reading in every-day life. For example, when in the supermarket you could discuss needing to be able to read the aisles to know what food is where, when driving discuss reading road signs, applying for jobs etc.

5. Praise, praise and praise again

Don’t hover over them whilst they’re reading but you could mention to them (after they have finished reading) ‘look how much you have read so far, that is excellent’. Obviously, the older children get, the more self-conscious they are so don’t over do it (they can smell insincerity a mile off).

6. Make sure their book selection reflects their interests, hobbies and experiences

Whilst you may have enjoyed ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ as a young child, that does not mean your son will. With a little research, you can find a book tailored exactly to your child’s preferences in no time. Or if you use the Readingmate app, you will have a ready and waiting list of books for your son to choose from. If you are really struggling with suggestions, get in touch with his teacher who would be happy to help.

Just like the search for the right pair of school shoes or pencil case, giving your son the confidence, passion and inquisition to pick up a book should be on every parent’s ‘back to school’ to do list.

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