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Minister promises to act on boys' failure

The Government is to tackle the "laddish, anti-learning culture" which has left boys lagging behind in the classroom, and resulted in a rise in juvenile truancy and crime.

But Stephen Byers, the school standards minister, said this week that the price of improving boys' attainment must not be the progress that girls have made over the past 15 years.

Under Labour's scheme, announced at a conference which was held at Manchester University, local education authorities will have to address the underachievemen t of boys in their education development plans for schools. In particular, ministers want to see more parity of performance in areas such as Croydon - where 15 per cent more girls than boys get five or more good GCSEs.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which is also involved in the campaign, is to publish recommendations by the end of this month on how boys' attainment in English can be improved.

In addition, the Office for Standards in Education has commissioned Cambridge University to look at how schools, local education authorities and the Government can reverse the trend.

It is expected that the study will examine teaching methods and the numbers of male and female teachers in primary and secondary schools.

It is likely to call for the greater use of baseline assessment to monitor boys' progress.

Mr Byers told delegates attending the 11th Internation al Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement that failure to act would consign thousands of young men to "a bleak future in which the lack of qualifications and basic skills will mean unemployment and little hope of finding work".

The minister added: "Our aim must be high achievement for all. It is vital that policies aimed at disaffected boys are not introduced at the expense of girls whose improvement over recent years has been a real success story.

"However we must recognise that if we are to create a modern Britain and a decent society, then the present level of underachievemen t by boys will need to be tackled as a matter of urgency. This will only be done effectively if a co-ordinated approach is adopted.

"We must challenge the laddish anti-learning culture which has been allowed to develop over recent years and should not simply accept with a shrug of our shoulders that boys will be boys."

Mr Byers said that there was a direct link between underachievement, truancy and crime.

The minister said that boys made up 83 per cent of pupils who are permanently excluded from school in England and Wales and that 28,500 boys left school at 16 without qualifications every year.

A recent study by the Metropolitan Police found that 40 per cent of street crime was carried out by young people during school hours. A separate report from Shropshire showed that of 500 young offenders interviewe d, one in five could not write their own name and address without making errors and 70 per cent could not fill in a job application form properly.

Mr Byers added that the poor performance of boys was evident across all stages of the curriculum.

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