COMPULSORY dance lessons have helped boys at a Southampton school to overcome laddish self-consciousness and tiptoe past the girls academically.
Boys at Wildern school and arts college overtook the girls at GCSE for the first time last summer, with 70 per cent - one percentage point more - getting five A*-C grades.
The result bucks a national trend in which 10 per cent more girls than boys get five top passes. Teachers say a key reason for the unusual result is that boys at Wildern are made to try traditional ballet, tap and contemporary dance.
For nearly three years, the school has given compulsory weekly lessons in dance, drama and music to all its 11 to 14-year-old pupils.
Jeffrey Threlfall, head at Wildern, said: "Boys can suffer from peer-group pressure and develop a macho attitude where they are afraid of doing well.
But if pupils dance in front of each other from day one it really helps boys' self-esteem. They know it's okay to show they've got a talent, to stand up in lessons, to read out poetry."
Mr Threlfall believes dance may be a major factor in the boys' success, but not the only one.
"If there was one single solution, we would have bottled it," he said.
The school has developed a range of strategies to improve boys' results since 1996, when only about 30 per cent gained five A*-C grades at GCSE.
These include teaching English and science as single-sex lessons, closer assessment of pupils' results, greater use of ICT in the classroom and the setting of shorter-term targets, which boys prefer.
Teachers say no boys at the 1,700-pupil school have ever questioned its compulsory dance policy.
Daryl Peel, 16, will take GCSE dance this summer. He was hooked after his first lesson and has formed an all-male dance group that will perform in Prague later this year.
"The first lesson was weird and a real eye-opener," he said. "The only things I knew about dance were Billy Elliot and Swan Lake, which I thought was silly. But the physical side of dance appealed to me, and I wanted to learn break-dancing. I enjoy ballet now as well, and I don't mind saying it."
Fellow dancer Claire Brenton, also 16, said girls at Wildern were committed to regaining their GCSE lead this year. She said: "I think the boys are brave, but they get used to the dance lessons quickly. It's a very open-minded school."