With all the furore over the ever improving A level and GCSE results, the questions raised about the purpose and efficacy of the new A* grade and the heated debate over the roles of teachers, students and examination boards in determining the level of results achieved, one surprising statistic seems to have been largely overlooked this year. Yet again, for the twentieth consecutive year, girls have outperformed boys in both major sets of exam results, achieving 8.3% of their A levels at A* grade (compared to 7.9% for boys).
As shown by the graph, the gender gap for the percentage of entries awarded at A* to C grade is even greater still, yawning at an amazing 8% difference.
So the question must be; what can be causing this steady and undeniably clear trend? Is our schooling system biased towards methods of education more beneficial and effective to teaching girls than boys? Are boys, as some theorists have argued, simply less motivated and less mature than their female peers? Or are girls just smarter than boys?
If so, then surely we need to ask ourselves what on earth is happening in between school examinations and the graduation to professional jobs. Whilst women simply outstrip men in the examination tables, the only formal evidentiary comparison we have of male vs. female intellect, they occupy a shockingly small percentage of the top managerial, corporate, political and executive jobs in the UK.
Figures from the Office of National Statistics show that just one third of corporate managerial and senior official positions are occupied by women, whilst the percentage of women in the survey sample who were senior officials in national government or directors and chief executives of major organisations was officially classified as “too small” even to produce a “reliable estimate”.
Some theorists argue that whilst the gender gap in examination results would appear to reflect superior levels of female intelligence, this does not translate to the job market and the professional world because women and men tend to prioritise differently, with men putting career and business ahead of a family and women focusing on their home life and their children.
Yet it seems over-simplistic to suggest that girls are simply smarter than boys, especially when statistics show that the examination performance of girls in single-sex education is generally higher than the results of those in mixed schools, whereas boys at single-sex schools perform considerably lower than those experiencing co-education.
These figures are surely the strongest evidence for the theory that girls simply mature earlier than boys and show stronger academic motivation and consciousness of future implications at the time when examinations are taken.
If it is the female attitude rather than the female intellect that is boosting exam results then it certainly stands to reason that mixing with girls would improve boys’ grades as their concentration and attitude towards exams have a positive impact on their male peers. Similarly, it stands to reason that girls in single-sex schools might outperform their co-ed counterparts as they are free of the distraction and influence of the more relaxed and irresponsible male attitude.
In light of the evidence it seems sensible to conclude that girls aren’t really smarter than boys. It is their sense of responsibility and their work ethic that seems more likely to be responsible for their exam success. Yet this still doesn’t account for the shocking figures of the gender gap in top UK employment, not to mention the enormous gender pay gap that still exists between the sexes at the highest echelons of business, law and politics and many, many other areas of employment.
If it is girls’ determination, hard work and conscientiousness that is putting them ahead of boys at school, why on earth is our employment system failing to reward these qualities too? It is quite clear that not nearly enough is being done from the top levels down to rectify this blatant yawning inequality. And if it is true that women are failing to occupy these positions due to their prioritisation of home, family and children, then why on earth isn’t our society encouraging the combination of these values and ethics with the capacity to occupy important and high ranking positions?
So is the education system failing boys? Not so much, it would seem, as they may be failing themselves. And the message to parents seems to be clear – for goodness sake get your son into a mixed school with the highest girl: boy ratio you can muster! Then again, you may find yourself coping with a different kind of distraction before lo