Lad culture loses its grip as the boys do better

Warwick Mansell

Boys are finally closing the gender results gap - is this the start of a fundamental shift in male attitudes to schoolwork?

Years of trying to persuade boys of the value of hard work are paying off, though it may be too early to celebrate the demise of "laddish culture", teachers' leaders said this week.

The claim came after A-level results revealed that girls' lead over their male classmates, in the proportion of entries gaining A grades and those passing the exam, narrowed this year.

The pass rate among boys was 95 per cent this year, up 0.7 percentage points on 2003, while the comparable figure for girls rose only 0.4 points to 96.8 per cent.

Some 21 per cent of boys' entries were given As this year, up one point, compared to a 0.8 point increase for girls, to 23.7 per cent. Boys' results also improved faster than girls' at AS.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said initiatives such as single-sex classes in the early secondary years and trying to change boys' general attitudes to work may now be bearing fruit.

He said: "This is the first evidence we have had at A-level that boys are beginning to understand that it is not particularly clever to underachieve.

I hope it is the end of the laddish culture."

The week was dominated by the annual debate about whether rising pass rates meant lower standards (see Spin Watch below).

Ellie Johnson Searle, director of the Joint Council for General Qualifications, added a new dimension by appearing to admit that pupil choice of subjects, as well as good teaching and hard work, lay behind the improvements.

She said: "Most students are making very informed choices (at the end of the first year) about moving forward with the three subjects they are best at. It's one of the big advantages of having that AS benchmark at the end of the first year."

But the most worrying aspect for the Government is the continuing drop in entries for French and German. The numbers taking German fell 8 per cent to 6,390, compared to a high of 11,338 in 1992 (see table opposite).

French entries dropped 2.4 per cent, to 15,149, against 31,261 12 years ago. At AS, entries for French fell 5 per cent, while German dropped 8 per cent.

Spanish partly compensated, A2 entries rising 3.2 per cent to 5,966, making it almost as popular as German. There was also a 6 per cent rise in numbers taking minority languages.

CILT, the National Centre for Languages, says that pupils' belief that English is spoken all over the world may be leading them to conclude mistakenly that it is not worth studying a foreign language.

Physics entries fell 6 per cent to 28,698, candidate numbers having fallen by 5,000 since 1998.

There was better news for maths, with A2 entry numbers rising 4 per cent to 52,788 after slumping by 12,000 in 2002. Religious studies had the biggest entry rise, 14 per cent, to 14,418 candidates, probably driven by the popularity of the recently-introduced short GCSE in the subject.

Some pupils achieved exceptional A-level results against the odds. For the first time ever, Tower Hamlets College, in one of the most deprived areas of Britain, has five students with offers from Cambridge.

Meanwhile, the Tories said this week they would remove students' ability to resit A-level modules as many times as they want, a right which some say has contributed to grade inflation.

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Warwick Mansell

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