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.

The University of Cambridge appoints first female black head of a college

Jesus College Cambridge recently appointed the first ever black female as its head. This is the first time in British history that either a female or a black person has been the Master of an Oxbridge College.

Sonita Alleyne is 51 years old studied Philosophy at Cambridge 30 years ago and went on to establish a successful career in journalism and has been awarded and OBE. She is a real champion for diversity and inclusion.

black woman cambridge.png

At first sight this seems like a very progressive move to promote equality and diversity, especially when Oxbridge universities have been under so much criticism recently over their disproportionately low numbers of black students and staff.

However, critics might suggest this is an ‘easy trophy appointment’ – what do Heads of Colleges do after all? They’re basically figure heads who liaise with other educational establishments, businesses and the wider communities.

Surely addressing the lack of black female staff (and especially professors) would have more of an impact in promoting equality and diversity?  I mean these are the people who students interact with on a day to day basis, so surely appointments to these positions would have more of a role-model effect, and surely make a difference to the lives of more people (i.e. the people appointed and the students they might inspire.

This appointment is progress, yes, but maybe not the most effective way of promoting equality and diversity

Relevance to A-level sociology 

This is most obviously relevant to the sociology of education. You can use this as contemporary evidence against the view that elite universities are institutionally racist.

Sources/ find out more:

Guardian Article (2018) – Oxbridge faces criticisms over lack of black students.

Article (2017) – List of black female professors in the UK (54 at time of writing, 6 of them in Sociology!)

Vogue Article – we urgently need more black female professors in UK universities (it’s not just Oxford and Cambridge!)

Picture source – BBC – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-48413098

Outline three reasons why girls are less likely to choose science subjects than boys (6 marks) 

This is a possible 6 mark question for the AQA’s 7192/1 Education and Theory with Methods Paper

The technique to answering such a question is to think of it in terms of 3 lots of 1 + 1 – you need 3 identifiers and then three developments

Possible identifiers

  • Teacher’s sexist ideas channeling girls into ‘girls subjects’
  • Science taught in a male way using male examples (engines), put girls off
  • Biological differences. Girls better at communication, not much discussion in science subjects
  • Differential parental encouragement
  • Boys more likely to play with technical toys
  • Fewer girls in text books
  • Fewer female science teachers
  • Boys dominate classroom by dominating practical equipment

Three identifiers plus three explanations/ developments…

  • (ID) Teachers may have stereotypical ideas that girls would struggle in male dominated subjects such as physics, (EX) and they may try and put them off, steering them towards other, more traditionally feminine subjects such as English, meaning fewer girls end up doing science subjects. 
  • (ID) Science subjects are often taught using masculine examples – for example, physics text books might use cars to illustrate the laws of motion. (EX) This might put girls off doing physics because they have no interest in the masculine examples used to teach these subjects. 
  • (ID) Girls are more likely to be socialised into discussing their feelings, (EX) and thus they might be more likely to choose subjects such as history and English where you need to discuss things more, rather than sciences where there is less discussion and ‘one right answer’. 

For more examples of exam practice questions, please see links on my ‘exams page‘!

Gender and Education: Good Resources

Useful links to quantitative and qualitative research studies, statistics, researchers, and news paper articles relevant to gender and education. These links should be of interest to students studying A-level and degree level sociology, as well as anyone with a general interest in the relationship between gender, gender identity, differential educational achievement and differences in subject choice.

Just a few links to kick-start things for now, to be updated gradually over time…

General ‘main’ statistical sites and sources

The latest GSCE results analysed by gender from the TES

A Level Results from the Joint Council for Qualifications – broken down by gender and region

Stats on A level STEM subjects – stats on the gender balance are at the end (70% of psychology students are female compared to only 10% of computer science students)

General ‘Hub’ Qualitative resources 

The Gender and Education Association – works to eradicate sexism and gender equality within education. Promotes a Feminist pedagogy (theory of learning).

A link to Professor Becky Francis’ research, which focuses mainly on gender differences in educational achievement – at time of writing (November 2017) her main focus seems to be on girls lack of access to science and banding and streaming (the later not necessarily gender focused)

Specific resources for exploring gender and differential educational achievement

Education as a strategy for international development – despite the fact that girls are outperforming boys in the United Kingdom and most other developed countries, globally girls are underachieving compared to boys in most countries. This link takes you to a general post on education and social development, many of the links explore gender inequality in education.

Specific resources for exploring gender and subject choice 

Dolls are for Girls, Lego is for Boys – A Guardian article which summarizes a study by Becky Francis’s on Gender, Toys and Learning, Francis asked the parents of more than 60 three- to five-year-olds what they perceived to be their child’s favourite toy and found that while parental choices for boys were characterised by toys that involved action, construction and machinery, there was a tendency to steer girls towards dolls and perceived “feminine” interests, such as hairdressing.

Girls are Logging Off – A BBC article which briefly alerts our attention to the small number of girls opting to do computer science.

 

 

Do teachers stereotype students according to sex and gender?

GCSE and A level statistics show us subject choices are very gendered – even in 2017, boys tend to choose typically male subjects and girls tend to choose typically female subjects.

Interactionist theory points to teacher stereotyping and labeling as one of the main explanations for these gendered differences in subject choice, but what evidence is there that teachers stereotype pupils along gender lines?

This 2017 Online Survey by Accenture found evidence of gender stereotyping and bias around STEM subjects:

  • Almost a third (32%) of young people think that more boys choose STEM subjects than girls because they match ‘male’ careers or jobs. The perception that STEM subjects are for boys only is the primary reason that teachers believe few girls take up these subjects at school.
  • More than half of both parents (52%) and teachers (57%) admit to having themselves made subconscious stereotypes about girls and boys in relation to STEM, and over half (54%) of teachers claim to have seen girls dropping STEM subjects at school due to pressure from parents.

teacher stereotyping.jpg

Sampling:

This research was based on a sample of  8,644 people in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, including 2,793 boys and 2,667 girls aged 7-16, 909 young men and 875 young women aged 17-23, and 1000 parents and 400 teachers.

The fact that this research is only based on a sample of 400 teachers, and the fact that the sample is online and random, raises questions about how generalisable these findings are to the wider population of teachers. We simply don’t know!

Gender and Subject Choice 2017

Looking at the A level exam entries by gender in 2017 over 90% of people who sat computing were male, compared to only 23% of people who sat sociology A level.

A Level Subjects Gender 2017

 

Either click on the above graphic or check out the interactive version here (irritatingly I can’t embed dynamic visuals in a wordpress.com blog, yet!) 

These are only selected A-levels, to make the amount of information more manageable…. I didn’t deliberately select it so sociology was the most feminine, but it’s certainly ‘up there’ as one of the most female dominated subjects… must be all that empathizing us sociologists do?!

Talking about empathy, or lack of it, I have to say absolutely no thanks whatsoever to the Joint Qualifications Alliance who did not even respond to my email request for a spread sheet of this A-level data.

The JCQ only make this public data available in the form of a PDF which makes it less accessible for data manipulation – I had to enter this info by hand, which was massively inefficient use of my time.

This post is primarily me testing out the capabilities of Tableau (Free data viz software)…. More on subject choice at different levels of education later, as well as analysis of WHY males and females choose different subjects…..

Source:

Joint Council for Qualifications and Enemies of Open Data. 

 

Should girls be allowed to wear trousers in school?

britney-spears-schoolgirl

Most UK schools have introduced trousers for girls into their uniform codes in the last twenty years, but some continue to ban them and will send home any girl who turns up wearing trousers, at least according to Trousers for All, which campaigns to give girls the option to wear trousers as part of their school uniform.

Trousers for all notes that ‘The ban on trousers for girls covers the entire spectrum of schools: primary, secondary, public and private, faith and non-faith”.

While it might seem like a throwback to the 1970s, or even the 1870s, this really does go on today – take this 2016 Mumsnet discussion as an example:

school skirts

Despite the above, there does seem to be widespread support (there certainly is on Mumsnet) for schools adopting uniform policies which either stipulate a ‘skirt ban’, so that that both boys and girls must wear trousers only, or that girls at least have a choice over whether they wear trousers or a skirt.

The following arguments have been put forward for allowing girls the freedom to wear trousers:

Firstly, it seems to be a pretty blatant breach of the government’s own 2010 equality act, and while it hasn’t been tested in court yet, it seems unlikely that if a parent mounted a legal challenge against a school banning their female child from wearing trousers, the school would lose – I mean, it’s been a workplace norm for 40 years now after all!

Secondly, forcing girls to wear dresses restricts their sense of freedom (Guardian Opinion Article (2017), and it does seem somewhat hypocritical that schools are expected to inspire in children a sense that ‘they are free to achieve anything they want’, except for wearing trousers in school for the next few years, if you’re a girl.

Thirdly, according to Becky Francis: “The stipulation that boys wear trousers while girls must wear skirts promotes messages that boys are active, while girls should be less active, decorative, and ‘demure’.”  (Professor Becky Francis, Director of UCL Institute of Education).

Trousers for All takes this a step further, suggesting that… ‘Schools forcing girls to wear skirts is equivalent to states forcing females to wear a veil and to companies forcing females to wear high heels. All of these are expressions of sexism.’

What do you think: is it right for schools to ban girls from wearing trousers?

 

Deeper Analysis: will a gender neutral clothing policy end the ‘policing of girls’ bodies in schools’? 

Laura Bates (of Everyday Sexism)  makes the argument that whether we have a gender neutral clothing policy in schools or not, girls bodies are still going to be ‘policed’ in school more than boys, citing examples of girls being sent home for wearing skirts deemed to be too short (and distracting to boys and teachers), and even examples of girls who have been sent home for wearing trousers which were too tight.

girls tight trousers
The trousers which were too tight for school

You also might like to contrast the way in which the above cases are treated, compared to the fact that these boys who turned up to school in skirts to protest their school’s ‘no shorts’ policy face no disciplinary action whatsoever. Maybe, just maybe, this reflects the fact that schools on average have a greater range of rules policing female compared to male bodies?????

%d bloggers like this: