The Gender Gap in Education

In 2022 girls still tend to do better than boys in GCSE, A-levels, BTECs and are much more likely to go to university.

The gender gap in education refers to the fact that girls get better GCSE and A level results than boys, in practically every subject, and women are much more likely to go to university than men.

The rest of this post provides more specific statistics on the relationship between gender and educational achievement at different levels focussing mainly on data from 2022.

GCSE results by gender, 2022 

The 2022 GCSE results show a 5.7% gender gap, with 52.5% of girls and 46.8% of boys achieving grade 5 and above in GCSE Maths and English (1)

The gender gap at GCSE has reduced slightly since 2019, when the gap was 6.6%, the last comparable year since that was the last time students were assessed by examination rather than teacher awarded grades during the two covid years when there were no exams.

Interestingly the gender gap increased to 9.2% points in favour of girls in 2020, the first year of teacher awarded grades, before narrowing again in 2021. This suggests to possible evidence of teachers stereotyping girls favourably compared to boys by increasing their grades relatively more, but unfortunately this theory remains a theory and is difficult to prove!

The GCSE gender gap varies by subject

There is considerable variation in the gender gap at GCSE by subject in 2022 (2)

  • Maths is the only subject where there is no gender gap – with 65% of both males and females achieved grade 5 and above.
  • The gap is small in double science, at only 3.6% points
  • It slightly largeer in geography and history, with gap being 5.6 and 6.4% points respectively.
  • One of the largest gender gaps is in English with the achievement gap being 13%.

The gender gap has reduced slightly for some subjects in recent years. For example, in 2019 16% more girls than boys got ‘good’ grades in English.

However in maths, girls have closed the gap on boys. In 2019 boys actually outperformed girls in maths by 0.5%.

Ebacc Entries by Gender

Girls are 9.9% points more likely to be entered for the Ebacc compared to boys.

in 2022 43.8% of girls were entered for the Ebacc compared to only 33.9% of boys. The gap has narrowed since 2019 but only very slightly.

Students must be studying the more traditional classic academic GCSE subjects including English and English Literature, Maths, the sciences, Geography or History and a language and achieved a grade 5 or above in all of them to attain the Ebacc qualification.

The fact that girls are more likely to be entered than boys reflects the fact that a higher proportion of girls are doing mainly classic, academic GCSEs compared to boys, which are widely regarded as more difficult and are correlated with higher achievement in further and higher education.

A-Level Results by Gender

At A-level, there is only a 3.9% point gap in the A*-C achievement rate between girls and boys.

In 2022 83.9% of exam entries by girls achieved grades A*-C compared to 80% of boys.

The gender gap for A-A* grades is slightly less with 36.9% of girls compared to 34.7% of boys achieving A-A* in their exam entries.

HOWEVER, boys are much less likely to do A-levels than girls (3)

  • 423 355 A-level certificates were awarded to females in 2022.
  • 353 270 A level certificates were awarded to males in 2022.

As with GCSEs there is considerable variation in the gender achievement gap at A-level. For example:

  • In Maths 79.9% of females achieved grades A*-C compared to 77.6% of boys
  • In Psychology 82.2% of females achieved grades A*-C compared to only 71.3% of boys.
  • In Sociology (the fifth largest subject by exam entry at A-level in 2022) 83.6% of females achieved grades A*-C compared to 77.4% of males.

The Education Policy Institute (4) has produced this wonderful infographic where you can explore the relationship between subject entry and achievement at A-level by Gender.

It shows us that subjects such as Maths and Economics have similar male-female attainment levels, and boys do better than girls in Further Maths, Chemistry, French, Spanish and music at A-level.

BTEC entries and results by gender

The numbers of males and females sitting BTECs are similar, with just under 60 000 entries for both males and females in 2022.

There are (unsurprisingly?) some fairly stereotypical subject choices going on. Health and Social Care is dominated by females while Sport and IT are dominated by males.

In terms of BTEC results, there is a similar pattern as there is for GCSEs and A-levels with girls generally being more likely to get higher grades than boys (5).

For example in the BTEC National Certificate for Business, 21.4% of females achieved a distinction star compared to only 15% for boys. In Health and Social Care and Sport, more than twice the amount of females achieved a Distinction star compared to boys in 2022.

University Entries by Gender

43% of 18 year old females entered university through UCAS in 2022 compared to only 32% of males (6)

There has been a significant increase in the number of females applying and being accepted to universities in recent years. There has been an increase in the number of both males and females applying to university, but the rate of increase has been twice as rapid for females since 1994.

Between 1994 to 2022 there was a 140% increase in the number females applying to university, but only a 77% increase in the number of males.

Between 2010 to 2022 the increases for females and males were plus 19% and plus 11% respectively.

The Gender Gap in Education: Conclusions

There remains a persistent gender gap at every level of education with girls doing better than boys on average at GCSE, A-level and BTEC and being much more likely to go to university.

There are, however, a few subjects at A-level where boys outperform girls, most noticeably in terms of numbers Chemistry, and in terms of status, Further Maths, but these are very much exceptions to the historical trend of girls doing better than boys.

Where university entry statistics are concerned, the gender gap is even widening in favour of females!

Signposting

This material is mainly relevant to the education topic within A-level sociology and serves to establish the fact that there is still a discernible achievement gap by gender in education, which can be explained by gender differences in society and by differential gendered experiences of education within school.

Sources

(1) Gov.uk (accessed January 2023) Equalities Insights from the 2022 GCSE results.

(2) Joint Council for Qualifications (accessed January 2023) GCSE Results 2022.

(3) OFQUAL 2022 A-level results analysis, accessed January 2023

(4) The Education Policy Institute: Analysis Level 3 Results Day, 2022.

(5) Pearsons (2022) BTEC Nationals Results 2022.

(6) House of Commons Research Briefing (2023) Higher Education Numbers.

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