Best and brightest are still boys, results show

GIRLS across Britain are apparently streaks ahead of boys in most subjects. But the brightest and the best at 17 and 18 may be boys north and south of the border, according to preliminary analysis of this year's Advanced Higher results in Scotland and the first advanced extension awards in England.

Scottish girls may have stretched the gap at Higher in English and mathematics but at Advanced Higher the picture is more even.

A Scottish Qualifications Authority study shows that while many more girls sat Advanced Higher in English and communication, which is seen as girl-friendly, boys had a significantly larger percentage of A passes - 20.7 per cent to 15.7 per cent. In maths, more boys than girls sat Advanced Higher, but girls narrowly squeaked the A passes - 16.9 per cent to 16.7 per cent. Girls also did better in B and C passes.

South of the border, girls upped their lead in top grades at GCSE and A-level but the first advanced extension awards, aimed at the cleverest 1 per cent, saw boys outperform girls in 14 out of 16 subjects. Of 7,000 entries, boys did better at the very highest levels, even in "feminine" subjects such as English. One in three were from independent schools.

Professor Alan Smithers of Liverpool University said: "Although the results of young women are continually improving, it is still men who succeed at the top level. This could explain the significant number of prominent males in many walks of life and why we still have a glass ceiling." Men have a higher proportion of first-class degrees than women, though the gap has been narrowing.

Elspeth Insch, head of King Edward V1 girls' school in Birmingham, said: "I do not think that boys are genetically cleverer than girls, but clever boys can be superbly confident."

As Scotland puzzles over the fall in English and maths passes at Higher, nearly half of all teenagers sitting GCSE maths failed to achieve a good grade and more than one in three struggled with English. In maths, 49 per cent failed to get a C or better.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said:

"A grade C or above at GCSE is quite an achievement. The proportion who have achieved it has grown over the past 13 years but realistically you are not going to get everyone to grade C."

If standards were to be pushed up, "boys had to raise their game", according to David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers.

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