Exclusive: Study shows girls' maths ability equal to boys

Call for educationalists to do more to challenge the gendering of Stem subjects

Helen Ward

China maths teaching

A new study of more than 20,000 pupils has found no substantial gender gap when it comes to maths performance.

The study carried out by education assessment company Renaissance looked at how schools used its Accelerated Maths computer-based maths practice programme.

Children’s achievements were measured using Renaissance’s Star Maths test and found “no substantial difference” between average scores for males and females, either when measuring how their scores have risen over time or their progress relative to students of the same age with the same starting point

“Maths skills are becoming more and more important,” Keith Topping, professor of education at Dundee University, said. “This study shows practically no difference between boys and girls when it comes to attainment. Educationalists must challenge the gendering of science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects if we are ever to see more female engineers, scientists and mathematicians.”

There has long been concern about the proportion of girls who drop maths after GCSE, with an Institute for Fiscal Studies report published earlier this year finding that a lack of confidence in their ability to succeed in maths and physics could explain why fewer girls choose to take them at A level.

In 2018, A-level results confirmed that girls are still less likely to take Stem A levels than boys.

Despite receiving 55 per cent of A levels overall this year, girls received 43 per cent of A levels awarded in Stem subjects.

The new study 'Implementation fidelity and attainment in computerised assessment of mathematics' also looked at how closely teachers implemented the maths programme with children aged 6 to 18.

The study compared the average percentage of correct answers to questions on diagnostic tests taken before learning a skill, practice tests taken while learning a skill and review tests taken once students have learnt a skill. These scores can show how well the Accelerated Maths programme is being used by showing how accurately the assignments are being customised and monitored by teachers. Again these scores found that there was very little difference between boys and girls in how the programme was being used.

Professor Topping said the findings were important because it meant that boys and girls scores were comparable and not due to one gender simply working harder than another.

“Finding no significant difference in terms of implementation means not only are girls and boys scoring more or less the same but [teachers] seem to be implementing Accelerated Maths equally well,” Professor Topping said. “So you can’t say that boys would have higher attainment but [teachers] are not implementing the programme as well.”

He added that many schools did not stick closely to the recommended method for using Accelerated Maths and with better implementation scores could be higher.

The study also found that pupils who spent more time practising the right skills at the appropriate level, time and pace on Accelerated Maths, did better than those who did not.

The study looked at performance in different year groups, although this data was not broken down by gender. It found that children tended to do better as they went through school from Year 2 to Year 7, and then attainment dropped sharply in Year 8 – although the research was not designed to look into why this had happened.

Commenting on the findings, Lauren Shapiro, special projects team manager at Renaissance said: “There is an enduring myth that girls don’t perform as well as boys in maths; this stereotype can follow them into later life with fewer women taking up careers in Stem subjects or becoming maths teachers.

"But this research indicates that does not need to be the case. This should be a wake-up call for all educationalists. We need to push for a cultural change in schools to shake off the male-oriented reputation that certain Stem subjects have among students."

For more on encouraging girls to study maths see this week's Tes magazine, available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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Helen Ward

Helen Ward

Helen Ward is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @teshelen

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