Boys told to lift game after girls increase exams lead

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Teenage boys were urged to work harder at school yesterday after the Government admitted that the sex gap in GCSE exams remained worryingly high.

Teenage boys were urged to work harder at school yesterday after the Government admitted that the sex gap in GCSE exams remained worryingly high.

This summer's exam results for England and Wales show that girls have again widened their lead over boys.

Last year boys closed the gap at GCSE level in the first reversal of the trend since the exams were introduced in 1988. But girls have now raised it again by 0.1 percentage points for A* to C grade passes.

Margaret Hodge, an Education minister, said the gulf was "unacceptable", adding: "We already have a number of initiatives in place ... but we will continue to identify other ways of responding."

Girls now outperform boys in most subjects. Boys retain the advantage in only a tiny number of cases including in mathematics at grades A* and A and some grades in physics, biology and physical education.

Girls also improvedin information technology, outperforming boys by 5.1 percentage points at A* and A grades, up from 3.7 percentage points in 2001. The gap widens to 8.7 percentage points for grades C and above, up from 6.4 points.

Some 62.4 per cent of girls' entries were awarded a C grade or better, compared with 53.4 per cent of boys' papers. Meanwhile, 5.9 per cent of girls achieved the A* grades, compared with 4.1 per cent of boys.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, blamed the "anti-learning laddish culture", adding: "This year's results clearly demonstrate a good performance by many students, but the boys are dragging down the results.

"There is not a cat in hell's chance of significantly reducing the 40 per cent of results that are below grade C unless the boys raise their game."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said parents must take some of the blame. "Schools need parents to give more encouragement to their sons to perform well academically," he said.

Damian Green, the Conservative Party's education spokesman, called for better vocational education. "Too many boys are turned off learning in schools," he said. "We need urgently to improve the courses we offer in secondary schools."

Ministers have blamed cultural factors including boys' belief that it is "uncool" to be seen to be working hard. They dispute that the rise in coursework in GCSE exams – which some commentators argue favours girls – is responsible.

But Professor Alan Smithers of Liverpool University said: "The GCSE is an exam which rewards hard work and consistent application. For whatever reason, girls seem to do that more than boys."

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, called for an inquiry. "That gap is evident at A-level as well and should not simply be ignored by the Government," he said.

Eamonn O'Kane, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said too much could be made of the gap. "Such phenomena have a habit of adjusting themselves, as was evidenced by last year's results, and could do so again."