New research suggests that the reason boys fall behind girls at reading is that they prefer factual books to fiction, which they see as "soppy" and "girly".
But school budgets have worked against them. According to Rosaleen McGonagle, a senior lecturer in education at South Bank University in London, cash shortages have combined with a lack of good-quality factual books to force schools to buy more storybooks for their classroom book corners. In most schools, encyclopaedias and other information books that boys prefer are kept in the library.
Ms McGonagle believes this may contribute to boys' poor performance at reading. Girls do better in reading tests at seven and 11 and even perform better in English at A-level.
Her study, published on Friday at the British Educational Research Association conference in Lancaster, involved almost 150 children and 20 teachers in four primary schools.
When asked to choose their favourite book, only six out of 74 girls chose a non-fiction book, while 19 of the boys did so.
Boys and girls in the first two years of primary school had quite different reading habits, Ms McGonagle observed. When taken to the school library, the boys would cluster around the shelves of information books and would look at them together. They were more "physical" with the books and tended to flick back and forth to find the bits they liked best.
Asked what they enjoyed reading, boys often said that they preferred books "that tell you how to make things" or that had photographs.
Girls were more likely to read quietly to themselves or to look for an adult to share their book. They tended to like books with drawings and pictures rather than photographs.
All the schools in the study said that because of funding constraints they had placed information books mainly in their libraries. The teachers also expressed reservations about their quality, saying that there was often too much text or that the pictures were not appropriate for the age group.
Ms McGonagle said the findings backed earlier research on the differences between boys and girls. "I'm not saying that, if you provide lots of information texts, boys will suddenly become excellent readers. But it's one little thread that could be remedied reasonably easily," she said.
John Davies, director of the Educational Publishers' Council, said lack of money was a problem but poor quality was not. "There certainly used to be a problem, but now there are far more non-fiction books for children with a lower reading age. They seem to have a fascination with dinosaurs, for example, and there are lots of books about them."
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