Equality is not an exact science

13th July 2007 at 01:00
Girls have forged ahead but boys are the winners in chemistry, physics and biology exams

HIGHER PROPORTIONS of boys than girls are achieving A and A* grades in the toughest science GCSEs, an analysis by one of England's leading authorities on exams and the curriculum has said.

Girls may feel the effects of this in the jobs market, as the exams can carry greater kudos with employers than those relating to arts subjects.

Tim Oates, director of assessment research at Cambridge Assessment, which runs the OCR exam board, made the disclosure in a paper aiming to debunk 11 "myths" about the gender gap in education.

Last week, The TES revealed how new Government research showed girls outperforming boys at all stages of education and surging ahead even in "masculine" subjects such as maths and double science.

However, Dr Oates, who was head of research at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority until last year, says more boys than girls gained A or A* for GCSE biology, chemistry and physics.

Of the pupils entered for physics who gained A or A*, 29 per cent were boys and 18 per cent were girls. For chemistry, the figures were 26 per cent and 19 per cent; for biology, 24 per cent and 20 per cent.

In a chapter of a new book, Genderwatch: still watching, Dr Oates said the Government analysis focused on how many boys and girls were gaining top marks as a percentage of the number entering the exams, but this obscured the fact that fewer girls were taking physics, chemistry and biology, which are seen as the hardest science GCSEs. The few that were entered tended to be more successful than boys, but the lower entry numbers meant a lower proportion of the cohort gained top grades.

This was mirrored at A-level, where far fewer girls than boys opted for physics and chemistry.

Dr Oates wrote that girls did appear to be outperforming boys in many subjects. But this gender gap might not simply be a result of what happened at school: as toddlers girls tended to be more proficient with language than boys of the same age.

He added that girls generally being ahead of boys need not be a sign of failure.

"Actually our education system could be construed as a very real success. Both boys and girls have improved very significantly over the past two decades," he wrote.

* 'Genderwatch: still watching', pound;23.99, from Trentham Books

Letters, page 24

A question of balance, Magazine page 40

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