Teachers blamed for boys' lack of literacy

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The Independent Online
STANDARDS OF reading and writing among boys in primary school are "worryingly low", the chief inspector of schools said yesterday.

Chris Woodhead blamed low expectations and poor teaching methods for the gulf between the sexes. Sixty-one per cent of girls aged 11 achieved the expected standard in writing in this year's national tests but only 46 per cent of boys reached the same target.

Mr Woodhead said: "It must have something to do with the teaching, the expectations of teachers, the teaching methods being used. The fact is there is a gap, an appreciable gap, between the progress being made between boys and girls."

Launching a report on the first year of the national literacy strategy, Mr Woodhead said overall standards in writing lagged far behind progress in reading. "This difference in progress between reading and writing is reflected in the evidence of inspection, which consistently showed that the teaching of writing was a weakness in too many of the schools in the sample."

He warned that too many teachers lacked the confidence in spelling and grammar to teach writing effectively, but said he was "optimistic" additional training would help to raise standards.

Ofsted inspectors visited 300 schools to gauge the impact of the strategy, introduced across Britain in September last year.

Mr Woodhead said teaching had improved as schools adopted the Government's daily literacy hour. He said the strategy was "arguably the most significant intervention in education in the last 30 years". The chief inspector said: "It has been adopted enthusiastically by the overwhelming majority of primary schools. Despite the union's pessimism and doom and gloom, despite the academics who say that it is a restriction of professional autonomy, the national literacy strategy works."

Seventy per cent of 11-year- olds reached expected standards in English in this year's national tests, a significant milestone on the way to achieving the Government's target of 80 per cent by 2002.

But while 81 per cent gained the national standard in reading, only 56 per cent achieved the goal in writing. Mr Woodhead said there were still problems with the teaching of phonics to pupils aged eight and nine and too many lessons remained weak.

He also criticised some local authorities. "I am deeply disappointed by the variable performance of local education authorities in implementing the strategy. Too many failed to set effective literacy targets while others were slow to give the strategy sufficient priority at the beginning of the year."

Ministers have already launched a national series of spelling tests in an effort to improve writing standards. Yesterday Estelle Morris, an Education minister, said every teacher of pupils aged 10 and 11 was being given extra training in the teaching of writing. The gap between boys and girls was narrowing, she said, and guidance to be published in the new year would address low standards among boys.

She said: "We anticipated that progress in writing would not match reading. But there was in fact a rise of three percentage points to 56 per cent. We are pleased by these first ever improvements in writing since figures have been collated, but recognise there is still a long way to go."