Boys have overtaken girls in achieving higher A-level grades for the first time in 17 years, with critics suggesting that dramatic reforms in how A-levels are assessed favour boys over girls.
However, a rise in girls taking STEM subjects – sciences, technology, engineering and maths – is said to be encouraging.
According to figures published by the Joint Council for Qualification (JCQ), male students scored more A* and A grades than female students for the first time since 2000.
Figures also reveal that pass grades have fallen overall throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but boys have achieved better marks overall.
This year students were the first to sit through new courses across 13 core subjects, including sciences, computing and English. In previous years, students were assessed on course work and exams spread throughout the academic period – however this year students were graded on their exam performance at the end of the course.
The percentage of boys awarded the highest grade possible, A*, over girls awarded the same grade was one per cent, equating to thousands of students, with 8.8 per cent of boys achieving the result over 7.8 per cent of girls achieving the same grade.
Critics have suggested that the new reforms favour boys over girls, with suggestions that girls achieve better grades when coursework and exams are spread out during the two-year course, whereas boys tend to do better with revising weeks before a final exam.
Speaking ahead of the results, Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, suggested that the changes to A-levels in 2000 favoured girls, however now that reforms had taken place boys may find it to their advantage.
However, education experts have said that suggestions that the new reforms favour one sex over the other are unfair.
“Looking at the new reformed subjects alone, girls actually performed slightly better than boys,” commented Carrie Paechter, a professor of Education at Nottingham Trent University.
“The numbers are so fractional; we are not in a position to make sweeping generalisations.”
STEM subjects, which have statistically been more popular with boys than girls, now show that overall share for top grades within these subjects is now equal at 24.3 per cent.
Speaking about the results, schools minister Nick Gibbs said that the increase in students taking STEM subjects ‘bodes well for the economic prosperity of our country’ and will allow them ‘to secure well paid jobs and compete in the global jobs market of post Brexit Britain.’
“Increasing the number of girls studying STEM subjects has been an important objective of the Government, so it is particularly pleasing to see that more young women are taking STEM subjects and that for the first time since 2004 there are more young women than young men studying chemistry,” commented Gibb.
“I hope everyone receiving their results will go on to successful careers.”