Try to focus on what boys do read

29th March 1996 at 00:00
Boys have been reading less than girls for the past 25 years. Frank Whitehead's 1971 survey of 8,000 children's voluntary reading habits showed that the amount children read declines as they grow older, and that at ages 10, 12 and 14 girls were more likely than boys to read.

Two decades later we have replicated Whitehead's survey and have found very similar reading patterns.

Boys still read less than girls, but boys of 10 report reading more than they were in 1971. At 12 there is no significant difference in comparison with the 1971 findings, but at 14 there is a decline in boys' reading. By comparison, girls of 10 and 12 are reading more than in 1971, and at 14 there is no significant difference.

There are many important questions embedded in these bald figures - about how to develop and sustain children's reading in secondary school, about changing patterns of literacy, about the adult reading patterns which older children are acquiring. It is too simplistic, though, to see "potentially devastating" effects ensuing from boys' preferences not to read prose fiction ("Boys read less than girls", TES, March 15). Boys' underachievement in school relates to a complex of factors of which reading patterns might well be one - but a careful analysis of the successes in improving voluntary reading among younger boys and girls seems to us more profitable than a deficit model which focuses on what boys don't do. Good teaching of reading has had much to do with the popularity of reading as a pastime - 65 per cent of the children reported reading for pleasure on the evening before the survey. The challenge now is to develop and adapt current good practice.

CHRISTINE HALL and MARTIN COLES W H Smith Children's Reading Choices Project School of Education University of Nottingham

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today