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Friday, April 23, 1999 Published at 19:47 GMT 20:47 UK


Books for boys

Ministers worry about boys turning their backs on reading

If you think Pride and Prejudice is strictly for girls, try Frankenstein - that is the message to boys from the Education Secretary, David Blunkett.

He thinks classic action and adventure novels such as The War of the Worlds might help to stop teenage boys being turned off literature.

Mr Blunkett, worried by the gap between boys' and girls' achievement at school, would like the change of emphasis to be in new National Curriculum guidelines for England that are due to come into effect from 2000.

[ image: Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice: Big hit - but not with boys]
Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice: Big hit - but not with boys
Headteachers at the Secondary Heads Association annual conference in Brighton supported the idea, noting that the age at which children became disaffected from school, particularly boys, was getting ever younger.

The General Secretary, John Dunford, former head of Durham Johnston comprehensive school, said: "When I started teaching it was the 16-year-olds you had to worry about. Now it is 13 and 14-year-olds."

Test evidence

At the end of primary school, tests show fewer than two-thirds of boys achieve the expected standard for their age in reading, compared with 80% of girls.

A senior government source said there was no question of "dumbing down", nor of introducing new material into the reading list recommended in the National Curriculum - which already includes books by Jane Austen and Robert Louis Stevenson.

"More adventure stories may appeal particularly to boys. Teachers may find their interest waning from other books," he told the Press Association.

"Robert Louis Stevenson is more likely to appeal to boys and teachers should be aware of that, and of the kind of books that are on offer and would appeal to boys, particularly the 11 to 13-year-olds, whose interest in books may be waning."

The education minister Estelle Morris told journalists at the conference that the government was determined to "leave no stone unturned" to address the problem of boys' underachievement.

"We need to ensure that boys read more," she said. "I don't believe that there are boys' books and girls' books as such, we don't want to be prescriptive about this at all.

"But the evidence shows that boys do not read enough and that is a massive problem in terms of boys' underachievement. And it is true that there are some books that have a content that boys prefer to read." These are books by authors recommended in the National Curriculum which the government thinks might appeal to different genders:

The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine - H.G.Wells
Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson
Robinson Crusoe - Daniel Defoe
Frankenstein - Mary Shelley

Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy

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