GCSE results: Gender gap widens as girls pull further ahead

The gap between the GCSE achievements of girls and boys is at its widest since 2002

Eleanor Busby

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Girls have opened up their biggest gap over boys in A* to C GCSE grades for 14 years. 

Results released today show that 71.3 per cent of female entries were awarded at least a C grade, compared with just 62.4 per cent of their male counterparts.

The gap – 8.9 percentage points – was wider than the 8.4 percentage points seen last summer and represents the biggest gulf since 2002, when girls were 9 percentage points ahead.

A higher percentage of female entries also achieved A* or A grades: 24.1 per cent compared with 16.8 per cent for boys – a gap of 7.3 percentage points.

Girls’ entries outperformed boys’ entries at A* to C by more than 10 percentage points in ten subjects, including (figures indicate per centage point difference):

  1. Media/Film – 20.1 
  2. Design and Technology – 19.9 
  3. Art and Design – 18.6
  4. English – 15.9
  5. English Literature – 14.9
  6. Religious Studies – 14.2
  7. Drama – 14.1 
  8. French – 11.3
  9. Spanish – 10.4
  10. German – 10.1

Boys were expected to do better

Andrew Hall, chief executive of the exam board AQA, said of the gender gap: “We think that a lot of that is about maturity.”

But he added: “We are not experts on gender. There are many people who research this. Our responsibility is to deliver assessments that are gender neutral […] But I think it is noticeable the size of the difference between the males and the females.”

But the gulf was narrower in the sciences with girls' results being only slightly better than boys in Physics (0.2 percentage points), Biology (1.6 percentage points), Chemistry (2.8 percentage points) and Computing (2.9 percentage points).

When asked what could be driving the gender gap between entries and performance at modern foreign languages, Mark Bedlow, chief delivery officer of the OCR examination board, said: “Anecdotally my sense of what is driving it is actually where boys see they’re most successful.

"The gender statistics show that boys have more successful applicants in maths and in the sciences.”

The gap in performance has widened despite expectations that the downgrading of coursework and a shift towards end-of-course exams would favour boys.

Suzanne O’Farrell, curriculum and assessment specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the removal of coursework and a greater focus on end-of-year exams could “possibly have an affect” on the gap in the future.  

She said: “Certainly removing the coursework element in time should possibly yield that. But we haven’t yet removed all the coursework in all the subjects. So we are not there yet. It is something for next year to look at, and the year after, when that does begin to impact.”

“This isn’t unique to the UK this particular question. It is a very complex picture,” she added.

Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of ASCL, said: “If we knew what the answer was we would have solved the problem.”

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Eleanor Busby

Eleanor Busby is a reporter at TES 

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