Formal grammar classes 'can help boys catch up'

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The Independent Online

Education Correspondent

English teachers should concentrate more heavily on formal teaching such as grammar and spelling to help boys who lag behind their female classmates, according to the Government's leading curriculum adviser.

Dr Nick Tate, chief executive of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, told a conference in London yesterday that a new task force on the problem would consider whether different teaching methods might help boys to catch up. He said they might be encouraged by wider recognition of non-academic achievements such as community work.

In July, Dr Tate caused controversy when he condemned "watered down multi- culturalism" and said children should learn a strong sense of their British identity. Yesterday, he said: "For as long as many of us can remember it has been widely accepted that there was a problem about girls' under- achievement. What is needed now is an acceptance that we face a similar challenge with boys, and especially with boys' attainment in English."

Dr Tate told a conference of the Basic Skills Agency, which aims to raise standards of literacy and numeracy, that a national rise in GCSE scores masked a growing gap between the performances of boys and girls. While just 12 per cent of girls now failed to gain a pass grade in English, the figure for boys was 17 per cent.

Put alongside figures for school exclusions, where boys outnumbered girls by four to one, and for entrance to special schools, where girls were only a small minority, the results were evidence of a serious problem, he said.

A recent study by the Roehampton Institute had found that only 9 per cent of boys in infant classes would rather read a good book than play a computer game or watch television, compared with 30 per cent of girls. Between the ages of seven and 11, more than half the girls questioned would choose a book compared with fewer than one in five boys.

Dr Tate said that an advisory group set up to tackle the issue will meet for the first time next week. It will look at the view that boys responded best to lessons which had a clear structure while girls liked empathetic, open-ended lessons. Teachers might be encouraged to employ a variety of methods designed to encourage both sexes, including the formal study of language, he added.