Targeting additional support to reach pupils with influence over their peers can improve boys' discipline and eliminate the gender gap in exam results, it found.
Ros McLellan, from Cambridge university, said teachers should be prepared to give trouble-makers a fresh start with the aim of getting them to reinforce rather than undermine the school's learning culture.
An inner-city comprehensive in the North-west which five years ago introduced a scheme identifying key leaders has seen boys outperform girls at GCSE in three of the past six years, she said.
More than 60 per cent of boys at the school gained five or more A* to C GCSEs in 2003 compared with 24 per cent in 1997. Nationally, girls remain about 10 percentage points ahead of boys.
Each summer term the school identifies about a dozen key leaders among its Year 10 pupils.
These may differ considerably in personality but have in common the fact that other pupils look up to them.
Each leader is assigned a member of staff who they meet regularly and who acts to resolve problems on behalf of the pupil, such as negotiating extensions to coursework deadlines.
The school, which was not named, is situated in a community blighted by high levels of unemployment, disaffection and violence.
"Despite these challenging circumstances, the school has been able to transform its reputation and is now highly successful," Ms McLellan said.
"It is clear that the scheme is very influential in reframing students'
experience of the school. Members of staff identified the scheme as a key factor in raising achievement."
The school recently extended it to include girls in an effort to cope with the developing problem of "ladettes".
Ms McLellan said laddish masculinity may be the biggest challenge facing some schools that are attempting to raise boys' achievement.
But she said the scheme would only work in schools with high expectations of attendance, a rigorous uniform policy and a day structured so that children focus on learning from the moment they arrive.
Teachers also have to be prepared to wipe the slate clean for pupils who have previously caused trouble.
A nearby school which attempted to introduce the scheme failed to raise achievement because staff did not see why they should reward difficult students who disrupted others' learning, she said.
An approach to tackling laddish masculinity to raise boys' achievement at secondary school was presented to a Bera symposium on a four-year government-funded project - Raising Boys' Achievement