The Gender Gap: Headteachers say 'all action' books helped boys improve their grades

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The Independent Online

Boys hit back in the battle of the sexes in this year's GCSE results - closing the gap in performance with girls at every stage. Figures showed they had cut the gap in the numbers achieving five A* to C grade passes by 0.5 per cent to 7.7 per cent. In the overall pass rate and in the percentage of A* and A grade passes, they also narrowed the gap - by 0.1 per cent. Headteachers' leaders last night put the narrowing of the gap down to a series of initiatives aimed at improving boys' performance.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders - which represents secondary school heads, said many schools had selected set books - with a view to making them more interesting for books. Research has shown that boys are more interested in all-action adventure books - Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island as opposed to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

"Schools have been working very hard to raise boys' achievement or many years now," he added. "They are working against many pressures from the outside world - but, if they are teaching English, they tend to look for the kind of books that boys would like."

However, teachers' leaders said this year's reduction in the gap followed "a bit of a moral panic" over the underperformance of boys. Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "It just shows when schools put their minds to it they can improve things.

"It has been headline news for some time now that boys are behind girls. Let us not forget that the concern years ago was that girls were not being given enough chance to succeed and equal opportunities - and lagged behind as a result."

Dr Dunford added: "Twenty years ago girls were behind and there was a massive reaction to that to improve their achievements." Ministers last night claimed that the introduction of catch-up classes for youngsters - mostly boys - struggling to keep up in the three Rs once they start secondary school was now having an impact on the results.

In many secondary schools, those who have failed to reach the required standard in maths and English in their national curriculum tests at the age of 11 are taught separately until they catch up - and can be reintegrated into the mainstream classroom.

Yesterday's figures also showed a big rise in the number of students opting to take religious studies - up 7.5 per cent. Canon John Hall, chief education officer for the Church of England, said the figures were "concrete evidence that young people are stimulated by the subject and fascinated by discovering more about what they and others believe and how that affects their day-to-day lives".