Girls swept the board in national curriculum tests for seven-year-olds, beating boys in every paper – reading, writing, speaking and listening, maths and science.
The biggest gap was in writing, where one in four boys failed to reach the standard expected, compared with just 13 per cent of girls.
Overall, the results showed a one percentage point improvement in writing this year from 80 per cent to 81 per cent – but a one per cent slump in maths to 89 per cent. Reading, and speaking and listening, remained the same at 84 per cent and 87 per cent respectively – as did science at 89 per cent.
David Laws, the Liberal Democrats' education spokesman, described the decline in maths scores as "a blow to ministers who have been targeting resources in order to improve performance". He added: "The Government should be especially ashamed of the fact that one in four boys failed to master basic writing skills by this age."
It is writing where the main concerns lie, with ministers pondering for years on how to improve the performance of boys.
Despite this, the gap between the sexes has hardly narrowed since 2003. A major overhaul of the way writing is taught was introduced last September. Teachers were told to move away from the traditional way of teaching writing: setting pupils a task, then assessing it and marking it.
Many pupils are discouraged by this approach, it was said. Instead, teachers are now encouraged to discuss with pupils what they should write before putting pen to paper.
Ministers have also pumped £5m into a "boys into books" scheme – which has led to 500,000 new books being delivered to primary schools – and a "reading champions" programme, under which Premier League footballers have revealed their favourite books in an attempt to persuade boys to read them.
Schools minister, Diana Johnson, said: "While this year's dip in maths is disappointing, overall the trend is a positive one with standards remaining high in recent years."
* The scramble to snap up university places showed no signs of abating yesterday.
Figures released by UCAS, the university admissions service, showed that 17,800 of the estimated 22,000 places in the clearing system had been taken – leaving 138,506 eligible candidates chasing just over 4,000 university places.Reuse content