BRITAIN - Blogging may have solved one of the most pressing problems that has perplexed the education world for years: how to get boys to write properly.
A pioneering approach adopted by a primary school in Bolton has seen a remarkable rise in pupils' test scores.
The biggest impact has been on boys - who are happily churning out 5,000-word stories for their blogs in the classroom. The school, Heathfield primary, is now being used as a role model to encourage others around the country to adopt its methods. The turnabout has seen the percentage of pupils getting a higher than average score ("level five") in national curriculum writing tests for 11-year-olds soar from just seven per cent to 63 per cent.
It all started during the heavy snowfalls last year. "I got really frustrated at the bad press teachers were getting [for school closures]," said David Mitchell, the school's deputy head. "I threw out an idea about hosting online lessons."
The school texted all the pupils' parents saying there would be online lessons while they were kept at home. On the school website a blogging platform had been set up and soon most pupils were busily blogging in response to requests to go out into their back garden and report on the depth of the snow. "Blogging was cool and fulfilling," said Mr Mitchell. "After this there was no looking back."
Blogging was then officially introduced to the curriculum with even five-year-olds being encouraged to write what they thought about their lessons. The school set up links internationally with other schools allowing their youngsters to exchange blogs with places as far apart as Canada and Australia. It also introduced a "blog of the week" prize for the most exceptional piece of writing.
Youngsters were encouraged to write their own short stories - with many producing 5,000-word essays at whim. "It is now a part of everyday life and the way our pupils like to communicate," said Mr Mitchell. "They will produce their work in class and then quite happily and eagerly go home and do a blog. It's now cool to be writing - especially for the boys. It's the boys who were coming up with the 5,000-word articles first."
Writing is the skill that pupils have least mastery of in tests for 11-year-olds, with only 71 per cent reaching the required standard, compared with 86 per cent in reading. The gap between girls' and boys' performance can be seen as early as seven - with the last tests for that age group showing one in four boys failed to reach the required standard compared with just 13 per cent of girls. Teachers find it remarkable that their pupils are now so enthusiastic over writing, something that was once considered a chore.
Paul Hynes, head of technology at the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, said: "It's amazing what they've achieved in such a short space of time."
He added that other schools which had followed in Heathfield's footsteps had noted the same phenomenon - that it improved boys' writing skills.
Ministers have ploughed millions of pounds into trying to solve the problem of boys' writing and reading standards, creating a "boys into books" scheme which introduced more fact-based books for boys to read in the classroom and a "reading champions" programme in which Premier League footballers spoke about their favourite books. Neither, though, seem to have had as big an effect as the opportunity to blog at Heathfield primary school.