This chapter sets out to document ‘what counts as literacy’ for 7-9-year-olds in the context of the British primary school. The focus is on reading rather than writing. The chapter draws on research conducted over a two-year period in six classes in four different schools, using a range of ethnographic research tools. Collected immediately before the introduction of the National Literacy Strategy in England, the data captures a particular moment in time. Yet the characteristic features here identified in the social organisation of literacy over the school day persist, and continue to structure relations between different aspects of ‘what counts as literacy’ in British schools. The chapter will argue that the distinctions observed in play have a profound impact on setting the terms of the relationship between gender and literacy. They also help explain why boys’ performance in literacy seems particularly sharply polarised between those who do well and those who do not. But not in the sense that one might most immediately expect. The crucial distinctions that schools make about ‘what counts as literacy’ are not in themselves constructed with reference to gender. The literacy curriculum is primarily geared to making fine distinctions between students based on their relative proficiency as readers and writers. Gender and literacy intertwine here as boys and girls struggle to make sense of the social positions they come to occupy in a hierarchy of skills which is both externally imposed and made highly visible through schooling.