This is a report from her Majesty’s Inspectors of Schools (HMI) into the factors which contribute to boys’ success in writing. Seven primary and eight secondary schools, identified as achieving good results overall and demonstrating success in closing the gender ‘gap’ in performance, were visited between April 2002 and March 2003. A literature search and an analysis of existing inspection evidence were used to identify factors to be evaluated on these inspection visits. As is perhaps to be expected, the main findings are related to effective teaching, learning and assessment approaches, and developing a culture where accomplishment of boys (and girls) is celebrated.
The factors are grouped under the following headings: ethos and policies; curriculum planning; assessment; teaching and learning; and pupils’ response, although there is inevitably some overlap (e.g. assessment policy). These have resonance with the four broad approaches identified in the subsequent large-scale DfES research report, Raising Boys’ Achievement: pedagogic, individual, organisational and socio-cultural. Many of the findings also pre-empt those of the later study; e.g. the importance of ethos/culture and effective pedagogy, the potential impact of parental involvement, encouraging reading for pleasure, the importance of oral activity. In contrast, whereas the national strategies are acknowledged by HMI as having had a profound effect on raising standards of teaching and learning overall, these feature in the DfES report only in the context of “combining successful factors of the NLS with a creative approach to teaching literacy”. Similarly, the suggestion in Yes he can that the systematic teaching of phonics impacts strongly upon pupil progress is not evident from the DfES study.
There are numerous examples within the report of very specific strategies and also vignettes, which may be of immediate utility to the practitioner; however, it would appear that a combination of effective ethos and assessment is essential, and that only when this is complemented by good teaching and planning are “effective individual lessons on writing (converted) into sustained, rapid progress for boys”. In this regard, the brief section on Interaction of the major factors is potentially the most significant in the report. However, the size of the sample should be taken into account when drawing out any implications for changes in school policy.
As an HMI report, this makes a significant contribution to the current debate on boys’ literacy. The annexes contain a wealth of useful material for trainers, trainees, teachers, schools and LAs, including background information and contextualisation of the issue of boys’ underachievement, as well as a checklist for school self-evaluation, which sits well with current Ofsted procedures. In particular, Annex B (Evidence base and inspection methodology) is worthy of further exploration and discussion, not least in regard to the reference to inspection (rather than research) methodology.