Education expert calls for a refocus on how we teach boys to read

31 October 2022

One in seven boys in Year 9 can't read at a basic level and policy makers at schools' education authorities and governments need to act now to reverse this trend.

That's the key take home message from the 2022 NAPLAN results according to CQUniversity education expert Professor Ken Purnell.

"The main big-ticket item of concern from this year's NAPLAN results is that Year 9 boys' reading has fallen to a record low'" said Professor Purnell.

"One in seven can't even read at a basic level' just a few years before they leave school' and they are a year behind their female counterparts."

He said Year 9 boys' reading needs serious policy attention at all levels of classes' schools' schooling authorities and state and federal governments.

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Professor Purnell believes priority should be given to programs that are known to work and have a good evidence base that teachers' parents and tutors can readily implement.

"We need to be employing quality reading programs that use age-appropriate reading content with tutorial assistance' whether by peers' teachers' parents or outsiders'" he explained.

"Simply interacting socially with others about the text being read' and supported in doing that reading in a brain-friendly way' helps the learning of reading."

Professor Purnell said another item of real concern from this year's NAPLAN results is that Indigenous students remain about two-and-a-half years behind their non-Indigenous counterparts.

"This is largely attributed to differences in school attendance rates according to other experts looking at this issue – in remote areas especially where school attendance is significantly less."

Despite the pandemic causing a loss of learning for students over the past few years' results seem similar to previous years' proving that the shift to online learning has had limited impact on students.

"Victoria's results where students had a full year of home learning did not show lower achievements' although the State did invest heavily in catch-up tutoring.

"In fact' long-term trends over the past 15 years show students' results have broadly stayed the same or improved."

Professor Purnell said girls outranked boys in reading and writing' but that was not surprising. Conversely' boys outperformed girls in numeracy.

"Overall' across Australia' two per cent fewer students participated in NAPLAN tests than last year.

"Reasons included natural disasters in New South Wales' such as floods' and perhaps parental and student concerns about the value of the testing when weighed up with their child's mental health – and their own."