Girls are beating boys at their own game

More female students are gaining top grades in `male' BTECs

Stephen Exley

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Girls studying traditionally "male" subjects such as construction, business and engineering may still be in a minority, but in terms of performance they are leaving boys trailing in their wake.

New BTEC results data published yesterday by Pearson - owner of the Edexcel exam board - revealed that female learners are pulling away from their male peers.

Girls taking BTECs at level 2 are performing better than boys across most subjects, but the most striking attainment gap is in subjects where female students are in the minority.

In construction and the built environment, 18 per cent of girls secured a D* - the top grade - in 2011-12, compared with 7 per cent of boys. The equivalent figures in engineering were 28 per cent of girls, compared with 16 per cent of boys.

At level 3, the gap is just as pronounced, with 48 per cent of female students taking the extended diploma in construction obtaining the top grade - far higher than the 34 per cent of male learners who managed the same feat.

"A learner's gender should never influence the subjects they study, or act as any indicator in how well they will perform," said Rod Bristow, president of Pearson UK. "I hope these figures will give more girls the confidence to see careers in business, construction and engineering as within their reach."

However, despite girls' success, courses in these subjects are still overwhelmingly taken by male students. Girls make up only 6 per cent of the cohort taking level 2 engineering courses; at level 3, this drops even lower to just 4 per cent. In construction, just 9 per cent of level 3 learners are female.

At yesterday's National BTEC Awards ceremony in London, Megan Turner, who has been studying for an extended diploma in engineering at Loughborough College, was named the outstanding BTEC student of the year.

Megan has been working with Loughborough University on a pioneering engineering project that could have commercial application, as well as visiting local primary schools to encourage more girls to pursue a career in engineering.

"Megan is a fantastic engineering student who is using the experience gained studying her level 3 BTEC to go on to university," Mr Bristow said. "She should be congratulated on her many achievements so far and I hope she will continue to inspire more girls to study engineering."

Overall, the number of BTECs awarded in 2011-12 to learners studying with FE providers increased to 239,000, up 10 per cent on the previous year's figure.

"The rising numbers of students choosing to study a BTEC at an FE college reflects the work we've been doing to ensure we are offering the right support for pupils and teachers in that setting," Mr Bristow said. "We want to work even more closely with the sector to ensure that the qualifications we offer continue to be valued by their students now and in the future, and the quality of delivery is unrivalled."

However, Edexcel faces increased competition in the vocational marketplace from rival exam board OCR, which launched its own suite of Cambridge TEC qualifications earlier this year. OCR chief executive Mark Dawe said that the board is "taking on the Pearson monopoly" and that some BTECs are becoming "tired and uncared for".

Last month, TES revealed that OCR had decided to rename the qualifications Cambridge Technicals, following a legal challenge by Pearson, which had accused OCR of copyright infringement. The titles of the OCR qualifications were also being investigated by qualifications watchdog Ofqual.

Original headline: Girls are beating the boys at their own game

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Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley is a freelance writer, director of external affairs at Villiers Park Educational Trust and former FE editor at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @stephenexley

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