Gender Gap Project

Policy, Practice And Perceptions: Addressing The Gender Gap In Liverpool’s Schoolchildren’s Writing

Concerns about a ‘gap’ in writing attainment between boys and girls (where girls consistently perform better than boys) can be traced back to the late 1990s. since then, it has been at the forefront of the educational agenda, and has become to subject of several reports from government agencies and research studies (Raising Boys’ Achievement, 2005).

Data from the Heseltine Institute Policy Briefing 2(17) (2022)

Our Phase 1 data indicates that girls’ writing is evaluated more positively than boys’, despite our linguistic evidence showing that differences in writing performance between the genders are very limited. 

The COVID-19 pandemic constituted a serious setback to efforts to address the writing gender-gap. Remote modes of teaching and learning during the pandemic had a damaging effect on children’s writing (see reports from the National Literacy Trust), especially at the primary level and in disadvantaged social backgrounds (Juniper Education National Dataset Report 2022, p. 13)). Although the latest 2022 NLT survey suggests some form of recovery, the figures for writing engagement and enjoyment in pupils are still lower than 5 years ago (Clark et al. 2022:22). This is especially worrying for the Liverpool City Region, whose outcomes in writing attainment are often in the lowest 10% in the national statistics (Liverpool Education Improvement Plan 2021, p.8)

In partnership with the Liverpool City Council, our Policy Practice and Perceptions project aims to develop new ways of addressing the ‘gender gap’ in primary school’s writing performance in the Liverpool area. It is a two-phased project. In the first phase (February 2022- February 2023) we collected and analysed different types of writing-related data (questionnaires and focus groups on writing preferences and attitudes, primary schoolchildren’s mini-essays). The results from this data were then developed into a series of recommendations on children’s writing and the gender-gap and distributed to education leads, teachers and teacher trainers. The recommendations were also presented to the Liverpool Education and Skills committee back in July 2022 and turned into a Heseltine Policy Briefing in the autumn of 2022.

The second phase of the project has just started. In partnership with School Improvement Liverpool, we are developing a series of school interventions for teachers on some of the Phase-1 project recommendations; specifically: 

  • Concept of ‘good’ writing. Our research shows that ‘good writing’ is differently understood by teachers and pupils. Pupils have a very ‘narrow’ concept of what ‘good’ writing means (especially boys). As [previous research shows, awareness of this issue and a shared understanding of ‘good’ writing among all education parties is needed to succeed in meeting education writing outcomes.
  • Gendered writing. Our Phase-I data indicates that girls’ writing is evaluated more positively than boys’, even if our linguistic evidence shows that the differences in writing performance between the genders are very limited. These gendered views of children’s writing have an impact on children’s motivation for writing and on their socio-emotional responses to it. 

We are looking forward to reporting on our findings and follow-up steps. If you want to know more or collaborate, email us!

The Education and Skills Select Committee meeting, 26th July 2022

Reports mentioned:

Juniper Education National Dataset Report 2022:

National Literary Trust 2021:

National Literary Trust 2022:

Raising Boys’ Achievements 2005: