Gazza's story to help boys' reading

BOYS WHO hate English could be encouraged to improve their reading by being given thrillers and biographies of stars such as Paul Gascoigne and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Government education advisers are urging schools to take a long, hard look at their teaching to try to tackle the yawning gap between boys' and girls' performance at school.

The move follows last year's GCSE results when 65 per cent of girls achieved a grade C or above in English compared with only 43 per cent of boys.

Yesterday, officials published two reports highlighting the importance of using action-packed books that are designed to appeal to boys who are switched off English because they think it is a girls' subject.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and the Basic Skills Agency believe boys can improve if teachers copy best practice.

The QCA report Can do Better and the Basic Skills Agency's report Improving Boys' Literacy are available for schools in England and Wales.

But the advisers stressed that they did not want to set out a "template" for teachers to copy but that each school should look at the problem and draw up its own solution.

Jim Pateman, head of strategy at the Basic Skills Agency, said: "We have produced a series of 400-word short stories called chillers which draw in poor readers, the thrillers are often very popular." These include stories with titles like The Ride to Hell, about a bus ride where the driver disappears and the coach careers out of control.

The agency had also published vivid but simple biographies of figures such as the actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Spice Girls and footballers such as Paul Gascoigne. The biography of Gazza describes his background, his practical jokes and how his behaviour towards his wife Sheryl let him down.

Dr Nick Tate, chief executive of the QCA, said the gap between boys and girls was well known and was greatest at the age of 16.

He said: "We had a big push trying to raise girls' achievements 20 years ago in maths, now we need to do the same for boys in English."

He said reading action- packed novels could lead to boys moving on to other literature, including ones they might currently ignore, such as poetry.

Schools needed to get a grip on the problem by analysing the performance of boys and drawing up a strategy for overcoming the peer-group culture that belittled reading.

Research by the QCA had shown that boys who did well at English were often seen as being "cool" because they were good at sport for example.

Other measures also being stressed by the advisers include mentoring schemes and fathers reading with their sons. They want to help interest boys by increasing the amount of drama in English lessons.

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