Girls widened their lead over boys in the top A-level grades, results showed yesterday.
The gap between female and male pupils achieving at least an A grade grew from 3.3 percentage points last year to 4.8 percentage points. Girls received on average a fifth of a grade higher than boys across their A-levels, Ofqual, the exams regulator, said.
They overtook boys at the top end of maths for the first time, with 29.1 per cent achieving an A or A*, compared with 28.5 per cent of boys. In A-level maths, girls overtook their male counterparts for the first time in terms of A* grades achieved.
Some experts say teacher-assessed grades, used this year after exams were cancelled, benefit girls more than boys.
The head of one exam board suggested that girls had pulled ahead partly because they had coped better with lockdown and developed fewer mental health problems than boys.
Jill Duffy, chief executive of OCR, one of the three main boards, said: “It’s very early to say exactly what the reasons are but previous research has shown girls tend to perform better at more continuous assessment. Boys tend to pull it out of the bag when they come to an exam.
“We also know the pandemic has had wider impacts, not just on education but also on mental health. Recent reports have suggested that that’s hit male students more than females so I think there is a variety of reasons there and I’m sure we’ll be doing more analysis on that in future months.”
In 2019, the last year of exams, 8.1 per cent of all subjects sat by boys were graded A*, compared with 7.3 per cent of girls. This year, 18.4 per cent of A-levels sat by boys were graded A* compared with 19.7 per cent of girls.
Girls had a higher proportion of A*s in all subjects than boys, apart from chemistry, French and Spanish.
Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council, had predicted that girls would do better, saying they tended to benefit under teacher-assessed grades. He added: “Girls are more inclined to please the teacher than boys. Most people who have taught acknowledge that.”
Mathematics remains the most popular A-level subject while the number studying English literature has fallen.
Maths made up 11.8 per cent of all A-level entries, with students getting substantially higher grades than in previous years.
Other subjects that have risen in popularity in recent years include psychology, now the second most popular subject, geography, which had a 17 per cent increase in entrants this year, and biology.
The top five most popular A-level choices were mathematics, psychology, biology, chemistry, and history.
English literature, which was once the most popular A-level subject, has fallen back to ninth place with a 5 per cent drop in entrants in the past year.
A research paper last year from the National Association for the Teaching of English suggested that government pressure to increase students on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) courses may have discouraged young people from taking English.
There were other large decreases for design and technology, which lost 5.8 per cent of students compared with the previous year, German, which dropped 4.9 per cent, and media, film and TV studies, which fell 3.5 per cent.
Music continued to fall in popularity. Only 5,040 candidates took the subject this year, compared with nearly 9,000 in 2011.
Despite the success of maths, the London Mathematical Society has warned that many universities are cutting back their provision of courses in the subject. The University of Leicester is considering closing its pure maths department. Jon Keating, president of the society, said the A-level results showed that maths had a “promising future” and must be protected at university level.
An east London state school is celebrating after sending more students than Eton to Oxbridge.
Brampton Manor Academy in East Ham secured 55 places at Oxford and Cambridge, and in total will send 330 students to Russell Group universities.
The tally exceeds Eton College, where fees are £44,000 a year, which has 48 places at the top two universities.
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