THE gap between girls' and boys' achievement at school grows as they get older, new research revealed this week.
A study of 500,000 pupils' results, the first to offer a "value-added" analysis of an entire cohort of students in England by sex, shows a growing gender gap in the teenage years.
The results will make depressing reading for ministers, coming only weeks after the Government launched a fresh assault on boys' underachievement in secondary schools.
They will also offer fresh ammunition to both sides in the debate over selection at 11. Comprehensives achieved better value-added results for girls between 14 and 16 than either grammar schools or secondary moderns, the analysis shows. But for boys, grammar schools did better on the same measure.
Adele Atkinson and Deborah Wilson, of the Leverhulme Centre for Market and Public Organisation at Bristol University, compared the results of pupils across England in key stage 3 tests in 1997 with their achievements two years later at GCSE.
They found that at KS3, boys outperformed girls in maths and science, with girls ahead in English. Boys' average level in maths was 5.06, compared to girls' 4.99. In science, the comparable figures were 4.96 and 4.90. But in English, girls were well ahead, achieving level 4.99 on average, compared with 4.34 among the boys.
By the age of 16, girls achieved higher results in all three subjects and had a bigger overall lead than at KS3.
Latest government statistics suggest that girls are surging into the lead in test performance, even in the traditionally strong boys' subjects of maths and science.
Last year's provisional KS3 results for 14-year-olds reveal girls were ahead of boys in all three subjects.
And even at 11, provisional results for 2002 reveal that boys were behind girls in English and science test results, and level with them in maths.
Last month, Sue Hackman, the new head of the Government's strategy to overhaul secondary education, told The TES that the first thing she had done on taking the job was to set up a task force to tackle the gender gap.
Letters, 24 "The widening gender gap in English schools" is available at www.