Education Quandary

'Where can I find out information about how to help the boys in my class catch up with the girls?'
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The Independent Online

You say you are aware that you find girls easier to teach and are already, this early in the term, slipping into your normal patterns in the classroom. Congratulations on being this self-aware, especially in a school that does not sound particularly supportive to teachers who want to close the gender gap. Now you need practical help and advice.

You could start by looking at the research report on a national push to raise boys' achievement, published by the then DfES, now the Department for Children, Schools and Families, two years ago (you will find it on the department's standards site). It stresses that helping boys not only to read well, but to enjoy reading, can bring results, and that this can be done by having the confidence to encourage pupils to debate and talk about what they are reading. Talk also helps boys' writing. They seem to benefit from exercises such as paired writing, and being given the chance to explore what they want to write about, as well as having opportunities to write just for the pleasure of it, maybe in journals or reading diaries, without being pulled up short on questions of grammar and spelling. Individual target setting and mentoring also seem to be useful.

Turn to the work of people who have been doing this for a long time. Gary Wilson is one who saw the issues and acted on them almost before anyone else had logged there was a problem. His website ( lists articles and books on the subject. And check out work done in Bradford, Essex, London and Devon, among other places, for additional pointers.

Readers' advice

When I was teaching I ran a Friday afternoon programme when I asked fathers and other men into the class for an hour to talk about their jobs, or the sports they like, or their hobbies. Particularly successful was a local fireman – the boys were transfixed – a potter, who showed the pots he had made, and a weekend fisherman, who gave us a presentation about the rivers where he fished. Many boys in the class came from single-mother homes, so they loved this exposure to the world of men and I could almost see them standing taller after it.

Josie Fullerton, Devon

Is it all your boys, or just a few of the more troublesome ones? If it is just one or two who aren't engaging, work out personal strategies for them, with targets and extra support, but don't re-orientate your whole class for a handful of children.

Jessie Kirkbride, London N1

Sorry, but you won't do this alone. I speak from experience. It is impossible to create a culture of learning and achievement when, outside your door, those boys who want to learn are picked on for being sad and uncool.

And if parents don't come on board and make sure their sons take school seriously and do their work properly, they will not take any notice of what you say. Maybe you should work on colleagues and home-school links first.

Tom Watkins, Leeds

Next Week's Quandary

Dear Hilary,

My daughter, who is 16, has set her heart on going to Oxford to read history. She is very clever, but not completely outstanding, and we – and her school – fear she may not make it and then take rejection badly. She is fiercely competitive. Should we encourage her or not? She has some eating problems.

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to arrive no later than Monday 10 September to 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax: 020-7005 2143; or e-mail: Please include your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Collins Paperback English Dictionary 5th Edition.