Boys lag behind girls at school – and one reason is their resistance to reading. But Premier League footballers are coming to their rescue…
Spurs goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini goes for Cirque du Freak by Darren Shan, not just because ‘the writer is a massive Spurs fan’
Teachers will nod glumly at today’s news that boys don’t want to read the books they’re offered at school.
In a new survey, a third of boys agreed with the statement "I can’t find anything to read that interests me", according to the National Literacy Trust which questioned 17,089 pupils aged eight to 16.
The problem with boys and schooling begins even earlier than that. A recent DCSF study of five-year-olds showed that while 42.8% of all boys had attained a good level of progress, 60.9% of all girls had done so – a gap of 18.1 percentage points. And the gender achievement gap is widening, particularly in socially disadvantaged communities.
The National Literacy Trust report also found that a fifth (19.4%) of young people who read below the expected level for their age believe that "reading is more for girls than boys".
By the time they’re eight, and the girls are whizzing their way to Hogwarts via the giant bricks Harry Potter resides in, many boys have reached a decision: books are for girls, I’m going to play football.
And that is where the Premier League Reading Stars scheme comes in. Each of the 20 Premier League football clubs picks a player to select their favourite books. The clubs adopt a library, which gets free copies of all the titles. Then libraries hold sessions to give local families the chance to meet their football heroes and chat about the books.
Let’s see what some of the footballers came up with:
Paul Robinson, Bolton Wanderers, went for It’s Not About the Bike by Lance Armstrong:
"It was really inspirational and encouraging and I enjoyed reading every word. I find reading a great way to relax, whether I am reading alone or to my children, and I found that I couldn’t put it down once I had started it. The book is written very honestly and encourages you to always fulfil your potential which is a great message to anyone."
Wade Elliott, Burnley, chose Anthony Horowitz’s The Falcon’s Malteser
"I enjoyed it because it was a crime mystery type story that had plenty of hooks and made me think about what was going on and what might happen next. Reading can open your mind to other people’s points of view and ways of doing things. It’s also a good form of escapism; it can be relaxing to switch off from your day by reading about different situations and ways of life to your own."
Chelsea’s Paulo Ferreira’s choice might come as more of a surprise – Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist.
"I’ve always enjoyed reading and especially now I have children. We try to read together as family as much as we can – it’s good to help your kids develop their language. It’s great that a book written in Portuguese has been so successful and is now one of the most translated and bestselling books in history. It’s a great story very simply told about a young man on a voyage of discovery. The message of the book is that despite fear and obstacles you should always follow your dreams and that experience is the greatest treasure of all."
In last years GCSEs, the proportion of girls getting an A or A* for all subjects was 24.4%, compared with 18.7% of boys. English results for boys were particularly disappointing. But there was a marked improved in maths, with boys outperforming girls for the first time in a decade. Could a boost in reading be exactly what boys need to start reversing a 20-year trend in other subjects? What books would you recommend they start with?
• The National Literacy Trust is an independent charity that transforms lives through promoting literacy.