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10 August 2021

Girls perform better (again) than boys for top A-level grades

10 August 2021

Girls have extended their lead over boys in the top grades in this year’s A-level results, with female students overtaking their male counterparts for the first time in maths.

The proportion of girls who achieved an A grade or higher was 46.9% – 4.8 percentage points higher than boys at 42.1%, figures for England, Wales and Northern Ireland show.

This widens the gap between the genders since last year when female students led their male peers by 3.2 points. Boys briefly took the lead in 2017 and 2018 after a long period in which girls had been ahead.

(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)

In maths, female students overtook their male counterparts for the first time this year in the number of A*s – with 29.1% of girls achieving the top grade, compared with 28.5% of boys.

Hundreds of thousands of students have been awarded grades determined by their teachers, rather than exams, with pupils only assessed on what they have been taught during the pandemic.

Exam boards said that while it is difficult to know why female pupils have performed better than their male peers overall, there is evidence that girls often perform better in continuous assessment such as coursework.

(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)

Jill Duffy, chief executive of awarding body OCR, told a briefing with journalists that it was “very early to say exactly what the reasons are”.

She added: “Previous research has shown that girls tend to perform better in more continuous assessment, boys tend to pull it out of the bag, if you like, when they come to an exam.

“But we also know the pandemic has had wider impacts not just on education but also on mental health, and recent reports have suggested that has hit young men more than females.”

She added that the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) does not publish data for students who identify as non-binary but “it is something the exam boards are continuing to work to support in the future”.

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