THE TABLES are turning at Rivington primary school in St Helens, Merseyside. This summer, for the first time, the boys outperformed the girls in national English tests at 11 - and by a wide margin.
It has taken three years of concerted effort to produce the Rivington scores - 93 per cent of boys and 75 per cent of girls achieving the target level. The girls' results were depressed this year because of a higher number with significant special needs. But that does not detract from the boys' performance - up from 63 per cent last year, and in the fifties in 1997.
Nationally, girls are still better at English. But the boys are closing the gap, with an 8-percentage-point improvement in those achieving the target literacy level for key stage 2.
Headteacher Lesley Traves said: "Three years ago we noticed the boys were quite significantly underperforming in English. We put a range of strategies in place and they appear to have worked."
Those strategies included raising parental awareness and encouraging fathers to take part in reading workshops; buying books that would appeal to boys; monitoring boys' book choices and steering them towards more varied literary fare; and allocating male teachers to underperforming boy readers.
The education authority has also been focusing on boys, offering schools advice on analysing performance data and on teaching styles and materials. There was an 11-percentage-point improvement in boys' English tests this year in St Helens.
Other authorities have seen big improvements in boys' scores without necessarily focusing on their performance.
John McLeod, Wakefield's director of education, who spent part of this week reading to primary classes in Pontefract, said: "We have been inviting schools to look particularly at boys' attainment. But probably as important is the focus on driving standards up overall."
Mark Pattison, director of education and training in Blackburn with Darwen, which saw a massive 13-percentage-point increase in boys' scores this year, also talked of boys' performance as one part of an overall school improvement package.
It is clear the gender literacy gap is closing not just in individual schools, but across entire education authorities. In 1998, 38 authorities recorded a difference of 20 points between the proportions of girls and boys achieving target literacy levels. Islington had a difference of 28 points. This year, only one council, Hackney, recorded such a gap, with the rest ranging from 16 points downwards.