When ten boys walked into assembly wearing pink T-shirts, the rest of the school wondered why. After being questioned by their puzzled classmates, they said it was the start of a trend which was all about choice. But, in fact, it was an inventive scheme to redress a situation in which 14-year-old girls at Tamarside community college, Plymouth, were doing twice as well in English as the boys.
The boys in pink were given the role of inspiring their classmates to enjoy reading. Phillip Wilkinson, the head of Year 10 who started the Lead Learners scheme, said: "I wanted people who would stand up and be different and who were not afraid to be called a swot. They are not all straight-A students.
"I got 10 boys into the initial meeting and they asked if they could have pink T-shirts because they wanted to stand out from the crowd in school."
It was about tapping into male behaviour. For example, newspapers were made available in the boys' lavatories. "We all know that men read while they are sitting on the loo. We wanted to get the boys to read something in a national newspaper, even if it was just the cricket results on the back page," said Mr Wilkinson.
Less than a month later, the pink T-shirt has become the most sought after fashion at Tamarside.
Adam Keelty, 14, said: "We wanted to set an example for everyone. I don't mind wearing pink and my friends all want a pink T-shirt too. I read out an article from a newspaper in assembly, which I hadn't done before and I got a B grade in my last piece of English coursework."
Mr Wilkinson said: "The impact it has had on the college has been phenomenal. The improvement in boys' behaviour has been unbelievable and staff have been blown away by their confidence."
This year's results of national tests for 14-year-olds showed the percentage of boys achieving level five in English was 32 per cent, compared to 64 per cent of girls.
Keith Ballance, headteacher, said: "Like many other schools, we have had significant issues with boys' literacy.
"The way that the boys have been received and perceived by others is fascinating. Now they all aspire to get into that elite group."