One quarter of boys are being diagnosed with special educational needs at school, a new report has revealed.
The findings mean that boys are now two and a half times more likely than girls to be singled out for additional support in primary schools – and three times more likely at secondary schools.
The Department for Education figures are likely to rekindle concerns that schools are wrongly identifying many children as having special needs (SEN).
Last month, a damning Ofsted report found that as many as 750,000 pupils in England were being diagnosed with SEN because of poor attainment, when the real culptit is defective teaching.
The watchdog claimed that in some schools, pupils making slow progress are automatically classed as having special educational needs.
Today's report shows that boys and girls are likely to have different kinds of SEN, with boys being more likely to have behavioural, emotional and social difficulties or autism than girls, often because of behavioural and emotional problems.
Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, has criticised the vast numbers of boys labelled as having SEN.
Speaking in the Daily Mail, he said: 'This proportion is extraordinary and is almost certainly being misused as a category to the detriment of children with particular disabilities who do need extra support.
'Schools for financial reasons seem to be turning it into a general category of slow learning and poor behaviour.
'Children who aren't learning, who feel that they are falling behind, are more likely to play up because they don't feel fully engaged with what's happening.'
Last month Janet Thompson, the author of the Ofsted report, said: 'We did find examples of young people identified as having behavioural, emotional and social difficulties which, if you unpicked the reasons for that, were actually around inability to read and write.'
Around 21 per cent of pupils – around 1.69million – are currently diagnosed as having SEN. Some 220,890 have statements of SEN which means that a formal assessment of the child has been carried out, detailing the extra help he or she should receive.
This figure has fallen from 236,750 in 2006.
However, the proportion of children diagnosed with SEN, without obtaining these statements, has increased from 15.7 per cent (1.29million pupils) in 2006 to 18.2 per cent (1.47million) in 2010.
These pupils have been identified for School Action, where extra help is given by the school in lessons, or School Action Plus, where teachers receive advice or support from outside specialists.
Among primary school boys, 489,250 (23.4 per cent) have SEN without a statement and 41,620 (two per cent) have statemented SEN.
The news comes amid separate reports of an alarming increase in children as young as five playing truant.
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