Education & Family

GCSE results: Gender gap widens in record-breaking year

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Media captionThe BBC's Chris Buckler met pupils at Crawshaw School, near Leeds, as they got their results

Girls have increased their lead over boys in top-grade in GCSEs, in another record-breaking year of results.

The performance gap between boys and girls has now reached its the widest ever - 6.7 percentage points - at the top grades of A* and A.

More exam entries overall were given the A and A* grades, and just under 70% were awarded between an A* and a C.

About 650,000 pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have been finding out their GCSE results.

Students in Scotland received the results of their Highers and Advanced Highers earlier this month.

The GCSE results show an increase, for the 23rd year running, in the proportion of entries awarded between an A* and a C grade.

A total of 69.8% of entries made that grade.

Graph on gender gap
Details of this year's GCSE attainment, by subject and by gender

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There were more A and A* grades awarded too - with 23.2% of entries making that grade, up from 22.6% last year.

But the overall pass rate (A* to E) dropped slightly to 92.7%.

Results show the continuing trend for grades in Northern Ireland to be highest, with England second and Wales last.

In Northern Ireland, nearly 75% of GCSE exams scored between an A* and a C grade. In England, 69% made that grade and in Wales the figure was 66%.

Boys dropped further behind girls at the top grade, with just 19.6% of their exam entries awarded A* or A, compared with 26.5% for girls.

The gap has widened from just 3.6 percentage points in 1994, when the A* was introduced.

Andrew Hall, director general of AQA exam board, said examiners were "scratching their heads" over the acceleration in the trend of two decades - especially as boys are catching up with girls at A-level.

"There will be something there about boys and girls maturing at different rates," he added.

'Worrying trends'

Results day also reveals the popularity of different GCSE subjects, and this year saw an increase in the numbers taking individual sciences but a continued fall in numbers taking history, geography and modern foreign languages.

Image caption Young people faced high tensions as they opened their results

The number of pupils taking physics rose by 16.4% on last year, while chemistry was up 16.2% and biology 14.2%.

But the number of entries in both French and German dropped by 13.2%, while Spanish also saw a small decline and geography entries dropped by 7.1%.

The government has brought in the English Baccalaureate to try to reverse the decline in these subjects.

It will be awarded to students who achieve good GCSE passes (A* to C) in maths, English, a language, two science qualifications and either geography or history.

Jim Sinclair, director of the Joint Council for Qualifications, which represents the exam boards, welcomed the increases in separate sciences, but said the drop in languages and growing gender gap were "worrying trends".

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Media captionEducation Minister Nick Gibb: "Without good discipline you can't have academic achievement"

The figures also showed:

  • An increase in students taking maths and English early, which Mr Hall said could be influenced by teachers trying to boost league table scores
  • Academies scored slightly higher grades than comprehensives - but these were well below grammar and independent schools
  • Declines in entries for design and technology (11.8%), PE (14.7%), ICT (22.8%) and music (6.2%), but a rise in religious studies (17.6%)

Boys 'concern'

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said: "Today we can congratulate thousands of young people as they collect their GCSE results... No-one should underestimate the hard work and application needed to gain GCSE qualifications."

He said the rise in maths and single sciences was "encouraging", but the fall in language study was "worrying".

"Through the English Baccalaureate, we want to make sure all pupils have the chance to study the core academic subjects which universities and employers demand," he said.

He said the gap between girls' and boys' results was "a concern", although it was a trend taking place around the world.

Improving the teaching of reading in primary schools and raising behaviour standards would help improve the situation, he said.

Christine Blower, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "GCSE results this year are outstanding and the hard work that has gone into them should be applauded.

While she said the decline of modern languages was "disappointing," she criticised the direction the government was taking.

"For all young people to be able to reach their full potential, we need to rid ourselves of this idea that an education system familiar to those who attended school towards the middle of the last century is the only way forward," she said.

For the first time, most courses this year were taken in bite-size chunks, although coursework has been cut down and replaced with school-based controlled assessments.

But Education Secretary Michael Gove has said he wants this modular system to end, to halt what he calls a "culture of re-sits" and restore rigour to the exams system.

Teenagers beginning their GCSE courses in 2012 will do their exams under the new system - at the end of their courses.

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