The recent A-Level results showed boys excelling over girls by a gender gap of 0.6% - with 8% of boys' entries achieving an A* compared with 7.4% of girls, Congratulations boys!
However, at Explore Learning we found a very different story for boys in the results of our recent National Young Writer's Award. Each year we run a competition to find Britain's budding young authors and we announced the winner of 2013. Judged by best-selling author of the How to Train your Dragon series of books, Cressida Cowell, children from all over the country wrote a 500 world story to the theme of 'Around the World'. The response was fantastic and more than 15,000 children took on the challenge of putting pen to paper.
When the results came in regional winners were selected - 80 in all. We were shocked to find that just 9% of these winners were boys. It is widely known that girls have more of a penchant for writing than boys at a young age but this figure surprised us.
So what can be done to inspire boys to love writing as much as girls? Of course, it is important to remember that not all boys are the same and not all boys are in danger of underachieving. However here are my tips on how parents and teachers can work together to inspire their boys to put pen to paper and give writing a try:
If your son struggles to concentrate when writing, intersperse physical activity and traditional seated learning activities. If you can walk or bike to and from school then children are alert and ready for a bit of calmer time. Knowing how long an activity is going to take and what the reward is can also help. Short and frequent learning activities keep children stimulated for longer and maximise the retention of information.
Sometimes children just need something to fiddle with such as a tangle toy. These help to take away the urge to fidget and can stimulate part of the brain that assists children in their learning or imagination. We love these from Great Little Rewards.
Get involved in their reading
Reading books to your children is a great way of sparking their imagination, no matter how old they are. Reading is definitely the route to great writing. Once children learn to read, you could be tempted to let them get on with it, but if you read a book with a child or put on a tape, you're enjoying the book with them. You're sending a message that books are important, reading is important, and therefore writing is important. Encouraging them to enjoy stories is the starting point to sparking their imagination and enjoying time as a family. Experiment with bringing characters to life and using different voices when reading aloud.
There are ranges of books that cater to boys specifically and they provide storylines and images that don't look too 'babyish'. Project X is a reading programme specifically written for boys - check out www.oxfordowl.co.uk for free samples.
Help them create characters they can relate to
Many boys will love reading about their heroes. Invite them to write about characters they know and love - for example, Hiccup from How to train your Dragon is a young boy that they can relate to and put themselves in their shoes. Ben 10 can have an infinite number of wild adventures or if they are big football fans, ask them to write about their favourite footballer and the adventures they might get up to!
Find a role model
Boys and girls both need role models and for boys they can be very powerful in early years. If they don't already have a male role model find someone who you would like your child to look up to - or if you think that you are their role model, make sure you live up to it and set the best example. There can be few male role models in primary education but at Explore Learning we are proud to have a good number of male tutors working in our education centres as we know that makes a difference to the boys that attend.
Give boys encouragement
One of the most terrifying things for children - both boys and girls - is fear of getting things wrong. So, it is important to surround your son with positive messages that he can be great at school and a good writer. It's ok for him to take his time - boys can develop later than girls sometimes so don't put pressure on him. If he writes a story, encourage him to read it out loud and when he does, give him praise. This will only encourage him to write more.
Encourage him to love his daily school life
Some boys begin to dislike school as they get older. If they prefer doing things like playing football to writing, make sure he knows when it's football time. Sit down together and draw out a plan of a typical day or week and show him what time he has each day to do his favourite things. Sometimes a loss of enthusiasm can be caused by school work becoming more challenging and some children are not sure how to deal with that. Try and make time to dicuss what's hard and how to problem solve.
Don't be the Grammar Police
Of course grammar and spelling are essential skills later in life, but I can't emphasise enough that grammar and spelling can't and shouldn't prevent creativity. Quite simply, if a child starts their creative writing by thinking they have to be perfect, they won't express themselves in the way they want to and this will put boys off.
Inspire them to enter competitions
There are many national and regional writing competitions that boys can enter. Once he's got a bit of confidence and is enjoying writing encourage him to enter competitions. You never know, that competitive element might bring out the best in them! If you're not sure how to inspire him then look out for a creative writing class - we run weekly classes in all our centres that take children around the world with their writing whether getting lost in the Amazon rainforest or reporting on a sports event in the USA - we all have a lot of fun!
Extra Reading for you
A great book to read is 'Help your Boys Succeed' by Gary Wilson. He has identified 14 different barriers that can effect boys' achievement at school and he looks at how parents can break through those barriers.
Let's inspire more fantastic British male writers for the future!