The collapse of manufacturing industry is partly to blame for boys' under-performance in schools, according to a leading academic.
Elaine Millard, a lecturer in education at Sheffield University, also told a conference on raising achievement in Stepps, North Lanarkshire: "We spend our time telling boys that what they're interested in reading is rubbish, when we should be building on their interests."
Dr Millard said boys' relative lack of achievement was not new - it was evident in eleven-plus tests. "The problem has simply become more critical because of socio-economic factors and because of schools' concerns over their position in league tables."
She suggested boys need specific strategies to motivate them. These could include small steps in more varied lessons with clear instructions at each stage, support for homework, the use of more drama and oral work, and increased access to the new technologies.
Figures from south of the border last year revealed that 42 per cent of boys gained A-C grades in GCSE English, compared with 59 per cent of girls. Maths results also showed girls had edged ahead of boys.
Dr Millard pointed out that in the past boys had a "second chance" to learn during apprenticeships. This had now been replaced by swathes of derelict industrial areas where three generations of men had not worked.
"The lie in schools is to say to pupils that if they get five GCSEs, they will get a job," she said. "But it's not literacy that gets you a job. It's jobs that promote literacy."
Boys were also under pressure from their peers that it was "uncool to work", reinforced by the glamorous images of football players and pop stars who may have left school without qualifications.
The conference was organised by North Lanarkshire Council as part of its attempts to raise achievement on a broad front.
The authority's strategy was endorsed by another speaker, Professor David Hopkins, head of the school of education at Nottingham University. He warned that the emphasis on quantitative targets, "may lead to occasional upward blips in achievement but will not necessarily do much for pupils' learning which will sustain them into their adult lives and careers."
School improvement, he suggested, should focus on a combination of learning needs, curriculum content and teaching strategies.