The underperformance of boys in exams is a matter of “national concern”, a new report has warned. Research has long shown that girls tend to outperform boys in exams at school, but an expert has called for this to change as he warned that the UK is not “developing the talents of half the population”.
In a recently-published report, Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, warned that boys would “remain far behind” girls when GCSEresults are released this Thursday (24 August).
He said: “This is of national importance, because we are not developing the talents of half the population as fully as we could. This can only lead to a decline in the nation’s economic competitiveness and ultimately loss of standing in the world.”
While girls have always on average done better than boys at GCSEs, the difference became particularly stark during the pandemic, when students could not take exams as ‘normal’ and grades were determined by teacher assessments.
In 2021, the gap between boys and girls achieving top grades reached a record 8.8 percentage points. According to Professor Smithers, evidence suggests that teachers tend to favour girls over boys when making predictions for grades.
In 2022, when exams were re-introduced, this dropped to 7.2 percentage points. But this is still a marked contrast - with 29.6% of girls’ exams graded 7, 8 or 9 in comparison with just 22.4% for boys’ exams.
It is expected that this lead will narrow further when GCSE results are published on Thursday (24 August), however, Professor Smithers has predicted this will only be by a small margin - and boys will “remain far behind” girls.
The expert said: “Girls have come to dominate education, not only at GCSE but also at A-level and in university degrees, both in terms of numbers and performance.”
He added that this is something which urgently needs to be looked into - but recalled that when he previously called for a “high-level inquiry” into the underperformance of boys, he was met with “the complacent view that since men usually came out on top anyway, what’s the worry about?”
Professor Smithers also recently predicted that there could be around 300,000 fewer top grades awarded this GCSE results day, compared with in 2022. This is due to examiners trying to bring results back in-line with pre-pandemic levels, after record grades were achieved in 2020 and 2021.