David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, urged teachers to give boys ripping yarns to read to stop them being turned off English at school. Mr Blunkett wants to encourage the study of action-packed detective stories, science fiction, thrillers andadventures such as the Sherlock Holmes series, Frankenstein or The War of the Worlds in new guidelines for the national curriculum, due to come into force next year.
Ministers believe that schools may reinforce the belief that reading is "uncool" by offering inappropriate books to teenage boys. A senior government source said: "The more adventurous stories may appeal particularly to boys. You might find their interests waning from other books. In the national curriculum there is Robert Louis Stevenson and Jane Austen but Robert Louis Stevenson is more likely to appeal to boys and schools should be aware of that."
Fewer than two-thirds of 11-year-old boys achieved the expected standard in reading last year compared with nearly four-fifths of girls. Tests for 14-year-olds show that while nearly three-quarters of girls reached expected standards in English less than three-fifths of boys hit the target.
Research carried out by the Government's curriculum advisers, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, has suggested that giving boys non- fiction and thrillers can increase English standards.
Under the national curriculum, secondary school children must study two works of fiction by major writers from before 1900 and two by 20th- century authors. The recommended writers include Jane Austen, Emily and Charlotte Bronte as well as Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Henry James and H G Wells. The 20th-century recommendations include William Golding, Graham Greene and D H Lawrence.
Estelle Morris, an Education minister, said: "We have got to take very seriously the fact that boys do not read.
"I do not believe that there are boys' books and girls' books. But all the evidence is that boys do not read enough, which is a massive problem which we must address in terms of the underachievement of boys and there are some books which have content which boys prefer to read."
The Government's stance was backed by head teachers yesterday, who claimed that boys were being "turned off" school at a younger and younger age.
John Dunford, the general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, which is holding its annual conference in Brighton, said boys as young as 12 were becoming disaffected with school.
Mr Dunford, the former head teacher of a big comprehensive school in Durham, said: "When I started teaching it was 16-year-olds you had to worry about, now it is 12 and 13-year-olds.
"I have seen the age dropping throughout my teaching career. We are seeing it at the age of 12, which is alarming, whether it is because of increasing maturity or the increasing influence people have through the Internet and television."
Judith Mullen, the association's president and the head teacher of Melbourn Village College in Cambridgeshire said: "How often do we see the bright- eyed bushy-tailed student, often male, switch off or no longer finding school challenging and stimulating? The gap between attainment of boys and girls in many of our schools is still far too wide for comfort."
Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley
The prototypical horror story of a man-made monster who turns on its creator, it is also a moving variant on the Noble Savage theme of innocence betrayed.
The War of the Worlds (1898) by H G Wells
Generally held to be the first true British science fiction novel, it is the story of how spidery Martians land in Woking and trash the Surrey countryside as the locals flee.
(1719) by Daniel Defoe
The first English novel, a fictionalised account of Alexander Selkirk's sojourn on a desert island, with added cannibals, domestic economics and a manservant called Friday.
Kidnapped (1886) by R L Stevenson
Highland and high seas romance following David Balfour, swindled out of his inheritance, and Alan Breck, Jacobite adventurer, as they trek across Scotland.
The Time Machine (1895) by H G Wells
SF adventure that turns into socio-political allegory when the Traveller's excursion into the 800th millennium finds most humans mutated into a nasty throng of Morlocks.Reuse content