Two years ago, in preparation for my current position as deputy head of English at a mixed comprehensive secondary school , I attended a conference organised by the National Literacy Trust to raise the achievement of boys.
It highlighted the fact that student attainment is dependent on reading ability and boys consistently underachieve in comparison to girls because they do not read for entertainment and leisure purposes. Inspired by the Literacy Trust's "Reading Champions" campaign, I began to implement Mount Grace School's "Real Men Read" project. Without access to the sorts of celebrities who stand up as male reading role models for the "Reading Champions" campaign, I felt that real, everyday men from our community and school would provide accessible role models to promote reading among our 11 to 18 boy-heavy student body.
Our "Real Men" - teachers, sixth-formers, Year 11 students and (soon to follow) dads - willingly throw their ties aside, kick back and pose for photographs with reading material that they would recommend as good reading. The pictures are then displayed on a notice board easily accessed by students. Included in the campaign are several opportunities for all students across the school to get involved: "Guess the Mystery Man" has one of our real men concealed by a book and a prize is given to any student (girls included) who accurately identifies him. "Get Caught Reading" gives younger boys (11 to 14) an opportunity to join the ranks of "Real Men"
(normally inaccessible to those who are not quite men) by having a photographed reading moment displayed on the board, if they are caught reading a book anywhere on the school grounds. This is at the heart of the project because ultimately we want boys to see reading as something fun which is practised by their peers, as well as other strong male figures, and thus choose to read more often.
Promoting reading among boys is certainly having an effect at Mount Grace School as we have seen a significant increase in our A* to C grades and have moved our KS3 English Sats results into the upper quartile of schools in the county. From dusty shelves and mothballs, today's reading role models are changing the face of fiction.
Deputy head of English, Mount Grace School, Hertfordshire