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Beacons try enlightened literacy

Australia. The 11-year-old property developer stands up at the town meeting and explains his plans to demolish the block of flats and construct a larger apartment building.

"But what are we going to do?" cries a 12-year-old mother of three. "Live in caravans?" Another occupant of the flats leaps to his feet: "This is where I've always lived and no one is going to move me!"

This impassioned role-play exercise demonstrates how teacher Margaret King, of Glenorchy primary school in rural Tasmania, is generating profound changes in the language skills of pupils, especially young boys.

Putting them in real-life situations, getting them to research a topic, then acting out events that might occur and writing up what happens, has transformed their attitudes to reading and writing, she says.

As one boy said after a role-play session: "I felt I was really there."

Glenorchy is one of 230 schools across Australia to receive government grants of up to $5,000 (pound;2,000) each to improve boys' learning.

It is the first stage of a $4million Lighthouse Schools scheme set up in response to evidence showing Australian boys under-perform.

Education minister Brendan Nelson said: "It is unacceptable that boys are doing worse in literacy tests than they were 25 years ago. Boys are lagging behind girls in literacy across the curriculum, from primary to secondary school."

Schools such as Glenorchy have been selected to try programmes that address boys' needs. Other teachers have similarly novel projects with titles such as "Boys can be poets too". In Darwin, a school with a high Aboriginal population has a scheme called "Ten good men" that provides community-based role models for boys.

The second stage of the initiative will see schools in the vanguard act as "lighthouses" to guide other schools' programmes for boys.

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