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Gap years: boys are getting better ... but so are girls

Concerns about boys' exam results might create the impression that they have been lagging further behind girls.

But the gender gap between the two groups has remained stable over the past decade as both boys and girls have seen their results improve steadily.

The Raising Boys' Achievement report highlights the rising trajectory of achievement for both genders, noting that this good news has been "relatively unrecognised and uncelebrated by most commentators".

In English tests for 11-year-olds, for instance, the proportion of boys getting a level 4 pass or better has gone up from 50 per cent in 1996 to 72 per cent last year.

However, the same gender gap remains because the rise has been matched by the girls. The proportion of them passing increased from 65 to 83 per cent.

Boys and girls of the same age have been closely matched in science and maths with boys regularly outshining their female classmates.

The differences between the sexes' test scores become sharper in secondary school.

But the gap between boys' and girls' GCSE results has also remained consistent over the past decade at around 10 per cent. Indeed, it can be argued that boys are steadily catching up with girls at GCSE. This is because the percentage point difference becomes less significant as both genders do better. The gap between boys and girls was the same last year as it was in 1995 at 10 percentage points. But because both genders' passes have increased, the proportion of girls to boys' passing has shrunk. In 1995 a quarter more girls made the grade, while last year it was a fifth.

So should we be so worried about boys' grades? If both groups are doing better, does it matter so much that there's a gender gap? The researchers behind the Raising Boys' Achievement project say they are not "unduly concerned" if girls' achievements continue to outshine boys as no school would want to make its female pupils perform worse. But they conclude that the fact only 80 per cent of 11-year-old boys perform at the same level as girls in writing tests shows that a stubborn problem remains to be tackled.

The worrying performance of many black boys also gives reason to be concerned. In last year's GCSEs, only 27 per cent of African-Caribbean boys gained five A* to Cs compared to 47 per cent of white boys. But 44 per cent of African-Caribbean girls (and 61 per cent of black African girls) got the grades.

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