Motivating secondary-age boys is not a new problem. At one time most idlers were rescued by trade apprenticeship. Five years' training gave time to achieve maturity and probably a job for life. Today's modern apprenticeships have proved slow to take off, and like other forms of post-school training offer no guarantee of a place in the labour force.
Boys also find themselves in competition with girls whose better qualifications and more positive attitude commend them to employers.
Teachers use various strategies to motivate boys. They can warn that underachievement at school will affect life opportunities. They can tailor the curriculum to seize boys' attention. They can comfort themselves with thinking that if a boy is persuaded to read a football book he is at least reading something and might progress to more challenging material.
An East Renfrewshire presentation to the headteachers' conference last week said that boys had to be made to work harder. There is no easy way to raise their game in exams. But where they are targeted and "encouraged" to complete coursework and homework their performance improves. In other words it calls for positive discrimination against the laddish culture.