Boys in their final primary year are rapidly catching up with girls at reading, but more than half are still not able to write at the level expected of 11-year-olds.
The latest analysis of national test results shows that in the last year the reading scores of boys have shot up by 14 percentage points, narrowing the gender gap.
While girls are now only six percentage points ahead in reading, they retain their substantial lead in writing - almost two-thirds of them achieve the required level, compared with 49 per cent of boys. Boys' writing score is up four percentage points and girls' three points.
In maths, the boys' one percentage point lead has disappeared at level 4, but a higher proportion of them are achieving level 5.
Ministers are likely to point to the success of the English and maths strategies, particularly in tough inner-city areas. The fastest rates of progress in maths are in the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Lambeth, where standards are low. English results are rising fastest in areas such as Wakefield and Rotherham.
However, ministers recognise that to reach English targets set for 2002, standards in writing among boys will have to improve. Funds are being provided to train all teachers of 10 and 11-year-olds in the teaching of writing.
John Stannard, director of the national literacy strategy, said boys seemed to have benefited from the concentration on guided reading during the literacy hour but the biggest challenge was raising standards in writing.
Results at key stage 2 have improved nationwide, but the gender gap in English ranges from 21 percentage points in Hackney, London, where only 43 per cent boys reach the required standard, to five percentage points in Sutton. In Barking and Dagenham, which is improving faster, there is still a gap of 14 percentage points.
Areas such as Tower Hamlets and the City of Nottingham still rank near the bottom of the local authority league table, but their results are improving rapidly. The exception is Hackney, where two key education services have recently been privatised. Its results are at a similar level to last year, although it was one of the areas in the numeracy pilot.