BOY-FRIENDLY books, including science fiction and gruesome horror stories, are to be included in the new national curriculum at the personal insistence of David Blunkett, the Education Secretary.
He has told the Government's curriculum quango to compile a special list of books appealing to secondary schoolboys for the revised curriculum in 2000.
Meanwhile, a new introduction to the English curriculum is to encourage teachers to adopt strategies to raise the achievement of all five to 16-year-old boys.
Improving boys' performance is crucial if Mr Blunkett is to achieve the literacy and numeracy targets on which he has staked his career.
He promised to resign if 80 per cent of 11-year-olds do not reach the required standard in English by 2002. The minister must have been alarmed to learn that 11-year-old boys' performance in national English tests failed to improve last year.
Fewer than two-thirds achieved the required reading standard compared with nearly 80 per cent of girls. Only 45 of boys reached the writing standard compared with 67 per cent of girls.
Research into reading habits shows that boys like action-packed adventures with plenty of blood and guts. More non-fiction, thrillers and horror stories would improve boys' reading and writing, a report by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, Can Do Better, concluded last year.
Tests for 14-year-olds also expose a wide gender gap - nearly three quarters of girls reached the expected standard in English compared with just 57 per cent of boys last year. In English GCSE, 65 per cent of girls achieve grade C or above compared with 43 per cent of boys.
The report advised that older boys should read detective novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Raymond Chandler and recommended translations of The Iliad, Homer's account of the Trojan wars, for boys of all ages.
Many of these proposals are expected to be incorporated in the new English curriculum which will urge teachers to have high expectations of boys and "recognise and build on what boys do well in English".
The Can Do Better report also advised teachers to pander to boys' preference for fact rather than fiction when choosing books, comprehension exercises and essay titles for them. They should take on board the tendency for boys to dislike poetry and their preference for writing about personal experiences and interests, it said.
The QCA is expected to submit its final version of the new national curriculum next week and Mr Blunkett is due to announce the proposed curriculum in May.