The gender gap: fact or fiction

Look back at the notes you made about your own experience of reading.

One of the questions was ‘Do you think girls read more than boys?’. Your own experiences are a good basis for understanding children, but it is important to avoid generalisations.

Much has been written about the ‘gender gap’ in primary education. Gender is the range of characteristics linked to the social differences between masculinity and femininity. There is evidence from research that supports the view that there is a difference between achievement in boys and girls.

Boys thought of as poor readers spent less time on or avoided reading in order to maintain credibility with their peers. Girls were happy to be seen reading easier books and to receive help from other experienced readers. By spending less time on reading, boys consequently fall further behind their peers so the problem becomes worse.

Some girls choose more challenging reading material for themselves. Contemporary books for girls in upper primary years include the Tracy Beaker series by Jacqueline Wilson. These and the plethora of vampire stories, such as the Twilight Saga by Stephanie Meyer, attract a pre-teen audience of able readers. Girls also share and discuss books much more readily, often forming reading groups similar to those that are popular with adults.

With growing awareness of the gender differences, efforts have been made to redress the balance. For example, a 2010 BBC TV series, Extraordinary School for Boys, explored different ways of engaging 11-year-old boys at primary school with learning, using concepts of risk and adventure.

By taking boys outside the classroom and involving them in learning through physical activities, the series attempted to harness that type of learning and channel it into learning within a classroom. It was led by Gareth Malone, who also challenged the stereotype that ‘boys don’t sing’ (The Choir: Boys Don’t Sing, broadcast in 2008). Gareth commented that ‘If school feels like a place where boys can take risks and push themselves and really challenge themselves, then they’ll be more engaged’.

Boys, girls and reading

Addressing the gender gap