GCSE results reveal boys are failing to close the gender gap

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A GULF in performance between boys and girls in some of the most important school subjects is revealed by a detailed breakdown of today's GCSE results.

A GULF in performance between boys and girls in some of the most important school subjects is revealed by a detailed breakdown of today's GCSE results.

A subject-by-subject table of results in the top gradesof A*-C show as much as a 20 percentage point gap between the sexes.

In English literature, 70.6 per cent of girls gained at least a grade C, compared with 56.6per cent of boys. English language results showed a similar gulf, with 66 per cent of girls getting good grades, compared with just over 50 per cent of boys. In art, the gap is 20 percentage points.

By contrast, maths results showed boys within a whisker of girls. Some 48.8 per cent of boys achieved grade C or better, compared with 49.7 per cent of girls. But boys did better at the top A* grade in maths: 3 per cent compared with 2.8 for girls.

Overall, more students were awarded grade C or better in the core national curriculum subjects of English, maths and science. Maths showed the largest rise of the three, with the proportion getting A*-C rising 1.4 percentage points to 49.2 per cent.

Improved performance in top grades was repeated by both boys and girls. But overall, girls maintained their 9.2 per cent lead over boys in the top four grades and retained a substantial advantage in the proportion gaining the top A* grades.

Professor Alan Smithers, of Liverpool University, said: "Society has found ways of bringing girls up to the level of boys in maths. It now has to find ways of bringing boys up to the level of girls in English."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, warned that smaller class sizes were needed to accelerate boys' improvement and close the gender gap.

He said: "Boys prefer more active learning and this requires smaller classes and more resources. If secondary schools are to narrow the gender gap in GCSE results, class sizes for 11- to 14-year-olds must start to reduce."

Martin Stephen, head of Manchester Grammar School, a high-achieving boys independent school, attacked the constant pronouncements in the media and by politicians about boys' poor performance. "It is quite depressing for our boys and staff to be told constantly that boys are not achieving," he said.

The figures show that the total number of entries rose by 5 per cent, though the number of 15- and 16-year-olds rose by only 2 per cent.

Mr Dunford said: "It is interesting that the maths results have improved more than those for English and sciences despite the introduction forthe first time of a non-calculator paper."

Professor Smithers suggested that the Government was on course to meet its target for half of 15- and 16-year-olds to achieve five A*-Cgrades by 2002.

But David Hart, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers, warned that increased investment at the lower end of secondary education was required to meet national targets for GCSEs.

He said: "It is wholly unrealistic to expect national targets to be met by pulling a limited number of pupils out of theD-grade pocket and into the C-grade pocket by intensive efforts in the last two years of secondary education when the investment has to be made in the first three years."

The numbers taking home economics were down, reflecting a move towards design technology exams, which now include a food option. The number of entrants for the geography exam was also down.

Estelle Morris, the School Standards minister, welcomed sharp increases in the entries for the new part one General National Vocational Qualifications, the work-related equivalent of GCSEs. Enrolments in the new exams, which became available across England and Wales in September, reached 32,250 - with 35 per cent gaining the full qualification by July.

In June the Government launched a "Don't Quit Now" campaign, and Ms Morris reinforced the advice to young people not to leave education, urging them to consider apprenticeships and vocational courses as well as school or college.

* The total number of GCSE entries was up, although some candidates did not state their gender and so are not recorded in the table.