Girls are racing ahead of boys at GCSE at “worrying” speed, opening up a record achievement gap between the sexes, results show. Girls outperformed boys in almost every subject and significantly increased their clutch of top grades in the sciences compared with last year.
A record 26.5% of girls’ entries in all subjects were an A* or A grade, compared with just under a fifth – 19.8% – of boys’ entries.
This has created a gap between the sexes of 6.7 percentage points, the highest on record. In 1994, when the A* was introduced, the gap was 3.6 percentage points. In 1989, the gap between the percentages of girls and boys achieving A grades was just 1.5 percentage points.
Some 73.5% of girls’ entries achieved at least a C, compared with 66% of boys’ entries. Last week, the A-level results showed the opposite pattern, with boys narrowing girls’ lead at A*.
Dr Jim Sinclair, director of the Joint Council for Qualifications, which publishes the GCSE results, described the growing gap between the sexes as a “worrying trend”. Others explained it as a result of girls having a more mature attitude towards education and exams aged 16.
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that at A-level boys tended to be “very focused on the grades they need for university. At GCSE, perhaps that maturity that the girls have is not quite there. They can’t see that obvious reason to aim for the A* grade.”
However, she said girls may develop language skills quicker than boys because they tended to spend less time playing computer games. But she said it could also be that boys “were simply not prepared to put themselves out for an examination that they might regard as not particularly important in the long run”.Professor Alan Smithers, of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said girls may have widened their lead over boys because of the structure of GCSE examinations.
At the moment, pupils can take their courses in bitesize chunks, known as modules, for most subjects. Coursework is included in the final mark. “Consistent application to schoolwork is more often a characteristic of girls,” Smithers said. “Boys tend to show up better in end-of-course examinations.”
This might mean that the gender split is different in future. From September next year, the government is scrapping modular exams and pupils will be assessed at the end of their courses.
The GCSE results also show a large rise in the number of girls taking – and achieving high grades in – biology, chemistry and physics. The Royal Society, which champions the study of science, said women had “long been under-represented in science careers” and described the trend as “very heartening”.
However, boys narrowly beat girls at GCSE maths for the third year in a row, following a decision to drop coursework in the subject. The proportion of boys getting at least a C grade in the subject rose to 58.9% from 58.6% last year. The proportion of girls achieving a C increased from 58.3% to 58.6%.
In English, girls were significantly ahead, with 72.5% of entries obtaining at least a C, compared with 58.7% of entries from boys. Boys were marginally ahead in physics and economics.
Meanwhile, academies – schools that are independent of local government control – achieved a higher proportion of top grades than comprehensives, figures published by the JCQ based on just over half of all academies show.
A quarter of academies’ entries obtained an A or A* grade, compared with 19% of all entries from comprehensives. Nick Gibb, the schools minister, said he hoped the results would encourage more schools to become academies. A third of all secondary schools will soon be academies. However, Stephen Gorard, professor of education at the University of Birmingham, said there was no evidence to show becoming an academy improved results. “In some cases, the pace of improvement has slowed since becoming an academy,” he said. James Vernoit, from the London School of Economics, said many of the schools had been performing well before becoming academies.