Macho methods will produce macho boys, researchers warn. Nadene Ghouri reports
PLANS to tackle male underachievement through boy-friendly books and football role-models are counter-productive, say leading academics.
Encouraging boys to read science fiction and horror stories will only serve to entrench the macho attitudes which cause them to fail in the first place, they claim.
Dr Debbie Epstein from the Institute of Education, London, and co-author of Failing Boys, a leading report into male underachievement, said: "Boys think they have to be rough, tough and dangerous to know, but in reality that is not a comfortable place to be. For many boys being Superman doesn't also mean being Clark Kent. We need to help them find ways of being both."
Ministers are alarmed by a growing literacy gender gap. In last year's key stage 2 tests, almost two-thirds of boys failed to reach the required standard in reading compared with 20 per cent of girls. Only 45 per cent of boys reached the required writing standard compared with 67 per cent of girls. In national tests for 14-year-olds three-quarters of girls reached the required standards in English, compared with 57 per cent of boys.
In English GCSE, 65 per cent of girls achieve grade C or above compared with 43 per cent of boys.
Education Secretary David Blunkett intervened during the current curriculum review to ensure "boy-friendly" books - classic adventure, science fiction and non-fiction - were included.
But speaking at a conference of primary heads in Essex, Dr Epstein said:
"Boys collect non-fiction books, just like they collect pogs or football models. It doesn't mean they actually read them."
Maud Blair of the Open University said ministers were in danger of creating a generation of homophobic, macho men. She said: "We should do more to ask boys what they think and stop stereotyping them to fit into adult ideas of what masculinity is. There is more than one type of boy."
New research from the University of Greenwich, London, revealed pupils of both sexes believe boys are held back by macho attitudes (see below).
Senior research fellow, Dr Becky Francis said: "Most initiatives are based on the idea that schools must make learning more interesting for boys. However, if boys see learning itself as non-masculine then government responses such as setting up homework clubs in football clubs are just tokenism and are certainly not going to raise standards."
Professor Ted Wragg, of Exeter University, said as many strategies as possible should be applied to help boys improve. He said: "Anything has to be worth a try."