Jamie Holmes thought he had little chance of passing any GCSEs, let alone going to university.
The scheme targets under-achieving boys
But, thanks to a new motivational scheme, the 16-year old pupil from Newcastle has now got nine passes and is planning to study for A-levels.
"I joined to have an incentive to pay attention and work more in class," said Jamie, a pupil at St Mary's Roman Catholic comprehensive in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
"While you are on the scheme, it shows you a different side to the school work. I saw that I needed to pay more attention and so currently do."
Jamie is among the latest group of boys who are turning their lives around by taking part in Operation 60 GCSE.
The organisers say the scheme aims to stir up "the James Bond in every teenage boy" through a series of "missions" based on achieving specific targets in examinations, attendance, attitude and specially-designed bonus tasks.
The participants are put into teams of five and are set monthly tasks.
The teams work with mentors who are volunteers from local businesses and the Army.
The boys then explore problem-solving and team-building tasks.
The scheme aims to unearth "the Bond in every boy"
Once a month they meet their mentors to receive, discuss and transfer assessment marks from English, mathematics, science and two subjects of their choice.
"If you're performing badly, that's one thing," said project manager Sam Keith.
"But if you pull down your friends with you, it's quite another. It's a simple motivator which appeals to their competitive nature and it really works.
"None of these youngsters is predicted to gain five A-Cs but they all have the potential to do so. The programmes have been proven to help them achieve that."
Getting five GCSEs at grade C or above is a government benchmark of secondary school attainment.
The scheme's organisers say they have seen a 50% yearly improvement in performance.
What is more, school attendance levels among participating pupils have improved consistently, rising to 90% for each year group.
The general manager of Newcastle Education Business Partnership, Gillian Bulman, designed the first programme in 2002, in partnership with Alan Glynn, a former deputy head at the city's Walbottle School.
It was so successful that not only has it helped more than 300 boys improve their GCSE results and enhance their skills, it is also being adapted by education authorities in the Netherlands.
"It's been incredibly successful and is now embedded into the curriculum," said Ms Bulman.
"It was originally designed for boys because they were lagging behind girls but we have been asked to come up with a version for girls and we hope that it will be equally successful."
Helping boys catch up with girls
Questions about how to improve boys' performances at GCSE level are no longer confined to the education sector.
Across the country, big school districts are looking outside the ranks of educators, turning to experts in business, law or the military for help.
With studies showing little progress in narrowing the achievement gap between the sexes, the question of how best to improve performances in places like Newcastle is one of the most critical issues in British education.
Government figures show boys are lagging behind girls in performance in GCSE examinations.
The proportion of 15-year-old boys achieving five good GCSEs this year was 53.3%, compared with 63.2% of girls - who achieved 53.4% success back in 1999 and have continued to be ahead.
The Schools Minister, Jim Knight, has expressed "deep frustration" that the gap has hardly narrowed.
Tyneside may be one of the most improved counties in England and Wales when it comes to GCSE attainment, but in Newcastle, as elsewhere, girls have traditionally out-performed boys at all key stages up to GCSE.
Schools taking part in Operation 60 agreed that while most of the students had improved, there were some for whom no initiative worked.
"But they do get a lot of peer pressure from their team mates," said Joanne Bloomfield, head of the upper school at St Mary's RC comprehensive.
"The students' initial reaction was that it's too late for them to change, that they were failures and they also found it a bit embarrassing.
"This only happened the first year of our school's involvement. After that, due to its success, it became quite 'cool' to be taking part."
Ms Bloomfield said many boys did not realise that they could do a lot better.
"Operation 60 shows them that they can. The GCSE results of some of these students have improved and this has had a positive impact on the school's results."