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Boys' Achievement

Raising Boys' Achievement

Resources and Research for raising the achievement of boys in English and Literacy Across The Curriculum

Summary of Boys' Achievement in Secondary Schools (2003)

Summary of Yes He Can (2003)

Research from Ofsted

Summary of  Ofsted, Boys’ Achievement in Secondary Schools (July 2003) Ref 165

Copies of the full document are available from the Ofsted Publications Centre on 07002 637833 or by emailing freepublications@ofsted.gov.uk

 This booklet outlines the ways in which boys’ achievement can be raised across the curriculum and is a sister document to Yes He Can which focuses specifically on boys’ writing. It is based on a variety of sources including HMI surveys, Ofsted inspections, reviews of data and research findings.

At the start of Key Stage 3, boys are behind girls in English although they are marginally ahead in Mathematics. This is exacerbated during the secondary years as can be seen by comparing results for the same cohort. The proportion of boys achieving 5+ in KS3 SATs in 2002 was significantly lower than those achieving 4+ in the Key Stage 2 SATs in1999 so providing a direct contrast.

 Furthermore, the gender gap at GCSE is greatest in language-based subjects at GCSE, such as English, RE and MFL. It is therefore essential that Literacy Across the Curriculum is a priority in the school.

 It is useful to remember that the suggestions for raising boys’ achievement are often successful for girls as well and that the role of SMT in facilitating the suggestions below and providing clear leadership cannot be underestimated. Staff need to understand the barriers to achievement in the school context and the expectations of all in the school community need to be high.

 The main suggestions and findings of the report are as follows:


The ethos of the school plays a vital role in raising boys’ achievement. The report found that the most successful schools are those in which the general ethos encouraged high standards, including the development of a strong learning culture which celebrates intellectual and creative achievement. These schools also engage interest and commitment, for example having a wide range of extra curricular activities and worked in close partnership with parents.

 Insistence on good behaviour was also an important factor with pupils being treated with fairness and respect, a clearly defined disciplinary framework in place and effective pastoral systems.

 Teaching and Classroom Management

 Research and inspection findings show that boys are less inclined to learn from indifferent teaching than girls which suggests a whole-school focus on teaching and learning.

Within the classroom, boys responded best to clear limits and high expectations, teachers showing enthusiasm for their subject, humour and rewards for good work.

Increased use of formative assessment was also seen to be effective with the use of short-term targets and feedback focusing on how to improve.

A structured teaching approach is also a factor in boys’ success, where lessons have explicit learning outcomes, a variety of activities, are based on an understanding of different learning styles and are practical and activity based with application to real life situations. The introduction of an element of competition and fun is also recommended as is the use of computers to enhance motivation. However, many boys need help to be more reflective about themselves and their work as well as an emphasis on the presentation of ‘finished’ pieces.

Alternative Curricular 

Disaffection is a major factor in the underachievement of boys. This can be addressed with the development of vocational learning especially when based in a college or workplace environment. The benefits of this can spread to school work.

Tracking and Supporting Pupils’ Progress

The evidence gathered for this report suggests that the most effective schools gather and analyse pupil level data, comparing cohorts and defined groups against external benchmarks (similar schools, etc) and internal benchmarks (previous cohorts, other groups within the school etc). This information is then used to set targets and track pupils, identifying under-performance and intervening at an early stage. Ofsted’s annual report of 2000/01 found that boys benefit proportionally more than girls from intensive support because they are often in the majority in those groups identified to receive it.

Research suggests that boys work harder when monitored especially because it can give them an ‘excuse to succeed’ when faced with anti-learning peer-group pressure.

Single Sex Education

Single sex schools can lead to improved exam results but there are also many other factors to take into account. These include ethos, the school’s reputation, history, etc.

In mixed schools, single-sex groupings have varied success but benefits in mixed classes arise from teacher control of seating and grouping, as well as activities that encourage boys and girls to learn from each other.

 NJH 8/03

Summary of  Ofsted, Yes He Can (July 2003)

LEAs where the gap between boys and girls in writing is smallest or is reducing most quickly

This annex is based on examining results over a three-year period at all key stages from all local education authorities (LEAs) in terms of the performance gap between boys and girls in writing, in English, and 5+A* to C at GCSE.  A number of those where the gap is smallest or is reducing more rapidly than elsewhere, were selected.  The EDPs of these LEAs were examined and a number of officers and advisers were contacted to discuss the issue.

Features found in most or all of the sample LEAs are:

  • LEA development plans have made explicit reference to the issue of boys' performance over several years, and set improvement in it as a priority.

  • actions taken have been well defined, often involve research by both teachers and consultants, and include dissemination of what works well, and why

  • areas of focus most commonly include:

                            -  responsive marking

                            -  links between reading and writing

                            -  oral work and drama to stimulate and accompany writing

                            -  writing across the curriculum

                            -  effective re-drafting

  • CPD/INSET has concentrated  on the issue of boys' writing, especially on the characteristics of boys' writing, assessment and target-setting

  • links have been made to other teaching and learning initiatives, especially concerned with active learning, classroom culture and ethos, and talk for learning

  • data analysis has been detailed and extensive to pinpoint the issue and concentrate attention on particular schools or groups of pupils

  • it has been linked also to a stress on the responsibility of senior and middle managers to monitor and improve teaching

  • LEA support teams have worked together on the issue, for example primary and secondary or EAL and English/literacy teams.

LEA staff wee asked to say to what they attributed progress in boys' performance in their LEA and the most frequently mentioned areas were:

  • improved knowledge of teachers, particularly of the development and assessment of writing

  • raised expectations and more energetic teaching, with a stress on active learning and interaction

  • tackling classroom culture and ethos, and especially the role of talk in learning.

These outcomes offer useful corroboration of several of the findings of the inspection visits to successful schools.

Checklist for school self-evaluation

Using the main points made in this report, the following checklist could be used to audit provision in any school:

Ten key areas for consideration

  1. Could our school or classroom better promote a culture and ethos which values literacy,           intellectual and aesthetic achievement more widely (including physical environment, teacher, pupil and pupil-pupil interaction, curricular and extra curricular offer, and links with parents over literacy)?

  2. Is sufficient priority given to promoting and sustaining personal voluntary reading, in English lessons and beyond?  Is reading of all kinds undertaken and discussed in sufficient detail for boys to absorb the models it provides?

  3. Do we do enough to demonstrate to boys that we value their writing and their progress as writers (by marking comment, oral feedback, display or publication)?

  4. What qualities in writing do we show that we value most?  Do they include succinctness, wit, logic, depth of thought, as well as appropriate elaboration, detail and length?

  5. Are our expectations high enough in terms of regular extended writing, the intellectual challenge of tasks, presentation and accuracy?

  6. Do we give boys enough scope to exercise choice as writers and express their own ideas?

  7. Is the balance well struck between the provision of clear structure to writing tasks (that is, they now what is expected and are offered any necessary scaffolding) and the push for maximum independence?

  8. Do we do enough to give writing a 'real' communicative function (by considering audience, publication and display, but also writing to aid thought)?

  9. Is talk being used appropriately at different stages of the writing process to support boys as writers (to enliven contexts through drama, for sharing of ideas, developing vocabulary or receiving feedback from readers)?

  10. Do all teachers (of English and other subjects) have sufficient knowledge about writing and writing development to provide detailed feedback to pupils, or is more training needed?

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