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 larger 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 by subject. 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, German, performing arts and music at A-level.

Although relatively few boys take languages at A-level and the numbers of boys taking performing arts is especially small.

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 trends in subject choice. 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!


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.


(1) (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.

Explaining Gender Inequality in Education – In School Factors

labelling, subcultures, the feminisation of teaching, coursework and boys’ overconfidence are all possible reasons.

In-school factors which may explain the gender gap in education include labelling, laddish subcultures and the feminisation of teaching. 

Teacher Labelling

Swann and Graddol (1994) found that teachers tend to see boys as unruly and disruptive and are more likely to spend time telling them off than helping them with schoolwork. Teachers have lower expectations of boys and so are less inclined to push them hard to achieve high standards. Because of their disruptive behaviour they are more likely to be excluded. Four out of five permanent exclusions are boys. With Ladette culture this may be changing (Jackson, 2006)

John Abraham (1986) asked teachers to describe a typical boy and a typical girl – The typical boy was described as not particularly bright, likes a laugh and always attention seeking, often by messing around. The typical girl is bright, well –behaved and hard working, being quiet and timid. As a result he found that boys were told off much more easily than girls.

Subcultures and ‘Laddishness’

Working class boys especially tend to form anti-school subcultures. Paul Willis (1977) found this with his research with the lads, Tony Sewell (1997) argues that there is a black –anti school masculinity and Diane Reay et al (2003) found that boys felt they had little control over their educational learning and so seek power through other negative strategies.

Unlike the anti-social subculture discovered by Paul Willis, some researchers such as Abrahams (1988) and Mirza (1992) have found evidence of pro-school female subcultures who actively encourage each other to study.

Carolyn Jackson (2006) – Found that laddish behaviour had important benefits – it made students seam cool and thus popular. She also argued that it was a response to the fear of failure – it made students seam unbothered about failing, so if they did FAIL they would not look bad. Furthermore, if lads and ladettes did well, they would be labelled as a genius – doing well with apparently no effort

Frosh and Phoenix – Mainly focus group interviews but some individual interviews Sample of 245 boys and 27girls in 12 schools Young Masculinities (2000) Found that few boys were able to be both popular and academically successful Conscientious boys who tried hard at school were often labelled as feminine or gay.

The Feminisation of teaching

There are more female than male teachers, especially in primary school where only 15% of teachers are male.

In line with women increasingly going into more professional careers, secondary schooling has also seen a rise in female teachers. This means that girls increasingly have positive role models while boys may fail to identify with female teachers.

One consequence of there being fewer male teachers working in primary schools is that the curriculum, teaching styles and means of assessment, are more appropriate to the learning styles of girls. Consequently government strategies of teacher recruitment now suggest that pupils will benefit from ‘gender-matching’ with teachers.

Some primary schools do not have any male staff members at all, and this can be especially problematic for boys with learning difficulties who tend to respond better to male staff.

The introduction of coursework

Coursework was introduced with the 1988 Education Act and this is precisely when girls started to outperform boys in education. Coursework may benefit girls in education because they are better organised and more likely to do work outside of lessons.

Boys’ overconfidence

Michael Barber (1996) showed that boys overestimate their ability, and girls underestimate theirs. Francis research in 3 London schools (1998-9) found that some boys thought it would be easy to do well in exams without having to put much effort in. When they fail they tend to blame the teacher or their own lack of effort, not ability and feel undervalued.

However, there is a counter argument to this (1). Boys with the same ability as girls tend to have better exam performance in specifically maths, and it seems that girls’ lack of confidence in what they perceive to be technically demanding subjects results in them being less likely to choose STEM subjects and perform less well than their intellectual peers in maths.

Limitations of in school factors in explaining differences in educational achievement

The introduction of coursework in 1988 seams to have had a major impact on girl’s surging ahead of boys because girls suddenly surged ahead at this time

Research by Skelton et al found that the Feminisation of teaching does not have a negative impact on educational performance of boys. They found that most pupils and teachers reported that matching pupils and teachers by gender did not significantly affect pupils’ educational experiences. Sixty-five per cent of children rejected the idea that the gender of the teacher mattered, with no major differences between girls and boys. The majority of pupils also believed that the behaviour of male and female teachers in the classroom was generally very similar in terms of fairness, encouragement and discipline.

Out of school factors must also play a role – boys learn to be ‘typical boys’ at home first of all and then their peers just reinforce this.

Don’t exaggerate the extent of male underachievement – boys are still improving in education and are now catching up with girls once more.


This post has been written primarily for students of A-level sociology and is one of the major topics within the sociology of education module.

In-school factors are usually contrasted to Home based factors which explain gender differences in educational achievement.

Another closely related topic within education is that of the relationship between education and gender identity.


(1) (1) Chiara Cavaglia, Stephen Machin, Sandra McNally, and Jenifer Ruiz-Valenzuela (2020) Gender, achievement, and subject choice in English education

(2) Gender Trust: Gender Inequality in the British Education System