26th February 2020

Science School league tables: Boys behind girls for three decades

Science School league tables: Boys behind girls for three decades


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England’s schoolboys have had worse exam results than girls for 30 years, secondary school league table data just published confirms.

Girls are now 14% more likely to pass English and maths GCSE than boys, with 64% of girls doing so and 56% of boys.

Yet there is little national focus on the difference in results or measures addressing why boys lag behind.

And campaigners and academics accuse consecutive governments of ignoring the issue.

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Science ‘Left behind’

On current trends, the gap between rich and poor is set to be eclipsed by the gap between males and females, in terms of university entrance, within a decade, campaigners say.

Data going back 30 years shows the gap between the percentage of girls’ and boys’ GCSE passes more than doubled between 1989 and 1999, from four to nine percentage points – a change often attributed to the introduction of GCSEs.

But there was little change over the next two decades. It remained stable for a few years, then dipped slightly to seven percentage points in 2009, then widened again over the next decade to nine percentage points.

The former head of university and college admissions services, Mary Curnock Cook said she was “baffled by this yawning inequality”, which revealed a “massive policy blind spot”.

“On current trends, a girl born today will be 75% more likely to go to university than her male peers,” she said.

“By then, the gap between women and men will be larger than the gap between rich and poor.”

The data also shows the gender gap is apparent in the EBacc, which measures those pupils who achieve a grade 4 or above across the core academic subjects of English, maths, science, history or geography and a language.

It shows girls are one and a half times more likely to pass all components of the Ebacc, with 28% of girls passing compared with 18% of boys.

There is now a clear need to tackle the underachievement of boys, according to the Men and Boys Coalition – a group of organisations, academics and individuals campaigning on male equality issues.

Science ‘Critical inequality’

Chief executive Dan Bell said: “For decades, this problem has existed but successive governments and the wider education establishment has buried its head in the sand and, in effect, ignored it.

“There has never been an explanation for this attitude despite clear evidence that generations of boys and young men are being left behind.

“That attitude can no longer be tolerated if we are to live in a modern inclusive society that truly tackles inequality.

“The time has now come that we must see positive action from the government and the wider education establishment to not just recognise this critical inequality faced by boys and young men but to systematically create strategies to tackle it.”

School Standards Minister Nick Gibb focussed on the achievement gap between disadvantaged pupils and their better off peers, saying it remains stable, but highlighting that it has dropped by about 9% since 2011.

He added: “The EBacc is instrumental in driving up educational standards.

“Overall more pupils are studying these core academic subjects than at any time since the EBacc measure was introduced and the entry rate is particularly high in our free schools.”


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