Gender gap in grammar among 5 primary testing insights

Study of more than 3 million test results shows boys and girls excel at different subjects, while disadvantaged pupils fall further behind as they get older3

Amy Gibbons

Primary school class

Girls outperform boys in all areas of grammar, punctuation, spelling and reading, but fall behind in maths during the primary years, new research shows.

Analysis of more than 3 million standardised test results across the five subject areas has revealed how primary school pupils' performance is influenced by their gender, season of birth and background.

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The research, conducted by RS Assessment from Hodder Education, which provides assessments for schools, and SchoolDash, an education data analytics company, is based on figures gathered from mainstream state primary schools in England between October 2015 and July 2019.

Its findings include:

  1. Boys begin to outperform girls in maths by the time they are in Years 2 and 3, and continue to perform better throughout the rest of their primary years.
  2. The attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers tends to worsen across all subjects as children progress through primary school.
  3. In reading, girls perform better than boys at the start of primary school and maintain this advantage until they leave at age 11.
  4. While the attainment gap between genders tends to decline with age for grammar, spelling and vocabulary, boys’ fall further behind in punctuation as the years go by.
  5. Summer-born children perform worse in grammar, punctuation and spelling throughout primary school, although the attainment gap narrows as pupils get older.

The anonymised pupil data was collated from the results of RS Assessment from Hodder Education’s standardised tests, which are taken termly by thousands of primary schools across England. The figures were then analysed by SchoolDash.

Professor Clare Wood, from Nottingham Trent University, said: “This analysis shows that we need to do more to support the learning of key skills and competencies in the early years.

"The data suggests that, while primary schools are effective at ensuring that both genders make equivalent progress, school instruction is not currently effective in closing the gender gap. In some cases, such as children with summer birthdays, although the gap is closing, it is arguably not fast enough. 

"In the case of children from disadvantaged backgrounds, the attainment gap is getting wider rather than smaller while, in relation to gender, we see different gaps dependent on the area of the curriculum assessed.  We need to support schools to use their school-level data in order to make effective changes to the overall picture, and in many cases, we need this to begin in the early years.”

Katie Blainey, publishing director at RS Assessment from Hodder Education, added: “Knowledge really is power in this area. Addressing the attainment gap is an essential part of school improvement, and by providing a detailed analysis of the various factors that affect attainment, we can begin to work towards a fairer start in life for all pupils, regardless of gender, background or when they were born.

"That’s a fundamental and guiding principle of the work we do at RS Assessment from Hodder Education, and of each primary school in the country.”

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Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @tweetsbyames

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