The Research

The Issue with Boys and Literacy

How often do we hear “he’s just not that interested in reading?”

Boys need literacy skills – not just for school but for life

Numerous studies show that there is a link between a lack of literacy confidence and low self-esteem. Literacy skills are also not limited to the English class. They are required in every school lesson and in all parts of life.

Boys’ Literacy Skills are recognized as a major concern

It is well documented that boys trail girls in literacy. This is not an Australian phenomenon but a major concern amongst global educators. Many studies have been conducted highlighting this issue and have put forward ideas as to why.

The research is hard to ignore

It starts from an early age. Boys are more developmentally vulnerable than girls at school entry. Almost double the amount of boys than girls are considered vulnerable in the area of language and cognitive skills. Refer Figure 1


Gender differences in development vulnerability

AEDC 2012

boys  Boys       Girls


Figure1.  Source: Australian Early Development Census 2014


A longitudinal research study undertaken by the Australian Institute of Family Studies found that boys stated enjoyment of reading reduced at they got older.  Starting at a significant 32% for 6-7 year olds, increasing to a disturbing 55% of 10-11 year olds. Refer Figure 2

Boys’ enjoyment of reading & writing


Figure 2. Source: Children’s academic engagement and enjoyment in primary school. Mathew Taylor Australian Institute of Family Studies 2013


Boys are less interested in reading as they get older

Given what we know, it is hardly surprising to find that boys trail girls in NAPLAN results. Girls were substantially less likely than boys to score below the NAPLAN national minimum standard for writing, with 6% of girls scoring below the national minimum standard compared with 16% of boys. Girls also performed better than boys for reading, with 7% below the national minimum standard compared with 11% of boys. Refer Figure 3

Proportion of students below NAPLAN minimum national standard – all ages

boys  Boys       Girls


Figure 3. Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics 4261.3 – Educational outcomes, experimental estimates 2014



The NAPLAN results are consistent across age groups and boys are still behind girls in Year 9.  More girls than boys scored in the top end of the scale and boys dominated in the lower end of the scale, in particular in the ‘below national minimum standard’ and ‘at national minimum standard categories’. Refer Figure 4

Gender differences in Yr9 NAPLAN performance by brand

boys  Boys       Girls


Figure4. Source: Australian Early Development Census 2014