Boys are twice as likely as girls to have fallen behind in language skills before the start of school, a study from the University of Bristol in partnership with Save the Children claims.
Entitled ‘The Lost Boys,’ the study mentions that one quarter of boys in the UK are struggling to form complete sentences and follow instructions after starting reception classes.
On average, last year in the UK 25% of boys were unable to complete a task which required them to answer simple questions involving ‘how’ and ‘why’ and to follow easy instructions. Only 14% of girls failed this same task.
There were no areas in the UK where boys outperformed girls in language skills.
The widest margin of difference illuminating the gender divide was to be found in St Helen’s, Merseyside, where 31% of boys failed the task set for them in contrast to only 14% of girls. The narrowest margin was in Richmond upon Thames, where just 11% of boys failed the test compared to a mere 6% of girls who were deemed to have language skills unfit for school.
Clinical psychologist Dr Elizabeth Kilby is not surprised by the outcomes of the study. In an interview on the BBC Breakfast Show she mentioned that:
“From my work with lots of young children and families and from going into school, I know that there is a real observable difference between boys and girls and what this research really helped us understand is two key points; first of all that boys show less of the concentration, attention, focus skills that are vital to helping you learn; and also that they engage in less of the types of behaviour that build their speaking and language and communication like turn-taking, singing, nursery rhymes, reading, narration, all of those things that are vital.”
The study has shown that boys should be treated ‘more like girls,’ according to Javier Espinoza of the Telegraph. In concordance with Dr. Kilby, academics recommend that boys partake more in singing, nursery rhymes and songs to ‘boost their language skills’.
Researchers at Bristol University, who developed the study using the data from the Millennium Cohort Study, have reportedly advocated that parents and teachers should also “read more story books to boys and reward them with stickers or hugs to boost their concentration” and “do more drawing and painting with boys to help bridge the gender gap in academic attainment.”
The ramifications of the ‘well-documented gender gap’ in pre-school language could have severe long-term effects, according Alison Kershaw of the Independent. In the last decade, the complied evidence that was used by Save The Children indicates that those children who are not reaching the language level expected of them at preschool and reception are four times more likely to be ‘lagging behind’ at the end of primary school.
The government has been called upon to aid boys entering the school system. Some have answered the call, while others have dismissed it.
A spokeswoman from the Department for Education said that she and her colleagues are ‘making a significant investment in the early years sector.’ St. Helens Council’s cabinet member for education Andy Bowman, on the other hand, pointed out that the data used was ‘up to two years old’ and since then there have been major improvements through initiatives such as ‘Read and Rhyme Time’ in local libraries.