THE laddish anti-learning culture which holds back many boys can be defeated by imaginative teaching and close monitoring of pupils, according to inspectors.
The Office for Standards in Education today published two reports on methods schools can use to raise achievements of boys.
Ofsted found that macho peer pressure remained a key reason why boys underperformed compared to girls in nearly all subjects, except for mathematics and science.
The gap between the sexes has remained steady in recent years, with 10 per cent more girls achieving five A*- C grades at GCSE.
However, the inspectors said that close monitoring and individual attention could give male pupils "an excuse to succeed".
They also found that boys were more affected than girls by how interesting lessons were. Teachers who were best at motivating boys were those who used humour and real-life situations.
"While girls often manage to learn despite lacklustre teaching, the matter may be more critical for boys," the inspectors said. Other common features of schools where boys succeeded were:
* lessons with short-term objectives;
* consistent discipline;
* set seating arrangements;
* a climate where "intellectual endeavour was not second to sport".
Although boys tend to perform better in single-sex schools, the inspectors stressed that this could be related to factors such as social class and previous attainment.
The impact of single-sex teaching in mixed schools was unclear. One school the inspectors visited abandoned separate teaching in Year 9 maths after boys' behaviour worsened and results declined.
Ofsted's reports were based on national inspection data and also on visits to 15 primary and secondary schools which had significantly small gaps in results between boys and girls for writing and English.
Many of the successful schools took care to provide "boy-friendly" non-fiction and fiction texts, such as Blood Brothers, and gave attention to specifically male issues in literature.
The inspectors said: "The careful monitoring of reading in several primary schools led both boys and girls to undertake increasingly challenging personal reading, including the substantial books of Tolkein and JK Rowling (interest in which was clearly linked to recent film versions)."
"Boys' achievement in secondary schools" and "Yes he can - schools where boys write well" are available at www.ofsted.gov.uk