10 November 2017

More girls at school means improved reading skills for boys

The reading performance of boys is better at schools with a higher proportion of girls. This is what Margriet van Hek, sociologist at Utrecht University, states in the journal School Effectiveness and School Improvement. Van Hek: 'Good reading skills are of course essential in the education sector. And these skills do not work in isolation: other educational achievements often depend on how well a pupil can read.'

In Van Hek's article, which highlights part of her doctoral research at Radboud University, the sociologist analyses the reading test scores of over 200,000 15-year-olds. She obtained this data from a global study in which no fewer than 8000 schools participated. Van Hek noted that the scores achieved by boys were better if more than 60% of the school's pupils were female. 'This could mean that a school which has a higher proportion of girls has a more productive teaching environment.'

Concentration and motivation

Concentration ability and motivation are two character traits which are more often attributed to girls than boys. These two traits often help pupils to perform well at school. Van Hek: 'This may explain the positive influence of a school's high proportion of girls on the improved reading performance of boys.'

Gender balance

The study also shows that the reading performance of boys gives cause for concern. 'Too little research has been carried out into the reading performance of boys', says the sociologist. 'All the same, this is a major problem in many schools. Not only are we shedding light on this problem, we are also showing that schools can actually do something about it: by establishing a good gender division of the school population.'

Single-sex education in the Netherlands

The research results mainly have implications for schools which offer single-sex education. 'This hardly happens any more in the Netherlands – in theory, at least. All the same, plenty of single-sex classes and schools actually do exist within our education system in practice. For example, take the different profiles which pupils at preparatory secondary vocational level (VMBO) can choose. Profiles such as "Care and Welfare" and "Mobility and Transport" probably have a very skewed distribution. The pupils are sometimes even in different buildings.'

Different subjects in a single building

Van Hek claims that policymakers and schools can also take steps to change this. 'Firstly, at the very least they can ensure that these different subjects are in the same building. Secondly, it would be good for the pupils who are following the different profiles to still take the general subjects together. Finally, boys and girls can be encouraged not to make such different and perhaps stereotypical choices in their profiles and study areas.'

The article by Margriet van Hek and her colleagues Gerbert Kraaykamp and Ben Pelzer can be found on the School Effectiveness and School Improvement website.

More information

PR for the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, tel. 030 253 4027, r.a.b.vanveen@uu.nl
Alternative contact: Press communication for Utrecht University, 030 253 3550, news@uu.nl