A new study shows girls are worse at writing than their male counterparts, despite better exam performance, Sarah Cassidy reports.
BOYS ARE more sophisticated writers and better spellers than girls despite their poor performance at English GCSE, according to a three-year study by government advisers.
But boys are outclassed in English exams because they write short, action-based stories and include less explanation than girls.
Ministers have focused on boosting boys' performance after concerns that girls outperform boys in English tests for all ages. Only 49 per cent of boys gained at least grade C at English GCSE last year, compared to 64 per cent of girls.
But research has shown that boys have many strengths at English, including greater technical skill and better vocabulary than girls.
Boys used more sophisticated words than female classmates awarded the same grade at GCSE, the study by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority found.
However, girls made just as many spelling mistakes as boys, even though girls were using more basic words.
Boys used capital letters, full stops, commas and clauses more accurately than girls. They also tended to write longer sentences than their female classmates, an analysis of 300 A, C and F grade exam scripts from 1998 found.
However, girls used more dialogue in their writing and could use speech marks more accurately than boys, according to the report, Improving Writing at Key Stages 3 and 4.
Sue Horner, the QCA's principal officer for English, said: "Particularly at grade C we found that boys' writing tended to be more accurate and rather better expressed than girls in terms of sentence structure.
"But it has to be remembered that these features are not the only reasons for awarding a particular grade at GCSE.
"It may be that boys' writing is characterised by being short and mostly focused on action rather than elaboration and explaining themselves."
The findings are part of a major three-year study by the QCA which they hope will be used by teachers to boost pupils' GCSE scores. It highlights the different types of mistakes made by A, C and F grade students, and the type of writing associated with high marks. High-flying students varied the lengths of their sentences while grade F students tended to use long, rambling sentence structures.
Even the brightest students had problems with word-division -writing "over heard", "alot" and "infact". One in five spelling mistakes made by A-grade candidates was of this type, while one in 10 mistakes was related to consonant doubling, such as "accross", "ballance" and "untill".
Dr Horner said: "We hope teachers will look at their own students' writing and see if it displays these characteristics. The report then suggests ways of focusing on these areas to see if pupils can improve the structure and quality of their writing.
"These suggestions can also be used for children lower down the school rather than waiting to intervene when students are 16."
The research was sparked by the 1995 Standards report by the QCA's predecessor, the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, and the Office for Standards in Education. The report raised concerns about the accuracy of teenagers' writing.
Improving Writing at Key Stages 3 and 4 is available from the QCA orderline on 01787 884444, price pound;6.