Boys began a historic fightback in GCSE results published today - outperforming girls in maths for the first time for 12 years.
Tonight headteachers’ leaders were predicting this trend would spread to other subjects with the result the gap – currently still at 6.9 per cent in the percentage getting five A* to C grade passes – could disappear over the next few years.
That would bring to an end twenty years of female domination in the results - beginning soon after the exam was first introduced in 1988.
The significance of the boys’ success this year in maths is that the subject is the first to ditch coursework in a revamp of GCSE’s. Other subjects will follow suit from next year.
The figures showed they were they were 0.8 percentage points ahead at A* to C grade and 0.3 percentage points ahead in A* and A grade passes. The sexes were equal in the overall pass rate.
Last year’s figures – the last time coursework predominated in the exam - they were one, 0.7 and 0.2 percentage points behind respectively.
It is the most significant shift in performance after years in which ministers have wrung their hands in despair over trying to improve the performance.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “This clearly demonstrates how the type of assessment clearly affects achievement – coursework having been abolished two years ago.
“This means that next year when coursework is reduced in many other subjects boys’ achievement will also catch up on girls in a wider spread of subjects.”
He added: “We have always known that coursework tends to favour girls. Over a 20 year span of excellent results, you can see that the periods when coursework featured most highly favoured the girls.”
Research has shown that girls favour the more methodical and diligent approach of being assessed on coursework whereas boys are more likely to rouse themselves for the end of term exam.
This year’s GCSE results showed an overall 0.9 percentage point increase in A* and A grade passes to 21.6 per cent with girls reaching a record high of 24.4 per cent, a 1.4 percentage point increase in A* to C grade passes to 67.1 per cent – the first time ever more than two thirds have been awarded top grade passes.
While most subjects showed a rise in the pass rate, there was a 0.2 percentage point decline in English at A* to C grade bringing the figure down to 62.7 per cent.
This prompted the CBI warn of the growing danger that youngsters without qualifications will face a bleak future on the dole.
It warned that more than 50,000 students in English this year and nearly 100,000 in maths only achieved an F grade pass or below.
Susan Anderson, its director of education and skills, said: “It is important that all young people and parents know the value employers place on school leavers being able to demonstrate a good grasp of the basics.”
Maths, though, did show an improvement with 57.2 per cent achieving top grade passes compared with 56.3 per cent last year.
“The improvements in maths grades are particularly welcome and reflect our sustained focus on getting the basics right,” said Schools Minister Vernon Coaker. “However, it is disappointing to see a slight fall in the English A* to C rate.
“We are not complacent and are targeting our efforts on ensuring that every child performs to their full potential.”
Mike Cresswell, director general of the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance – the country’s biggest exam board, said of the English results: “Two years doesn’t make a trend.”
On the gender gap, the difference between the sexes at A* to C grade is 6.9 percentage points – a figure which has steadily dropped from 8.8 percentage points six years ago. In the overall pass rate, the gap is 0.5 percentage points – again the lowest for six years. However, at A* and A grade it is still increasing – up by one percentage point to 5.7 per cent. The fall is aided this year by the boys’ score in maths.
A breakdown of the results reveals the rise in A* and A grade passes is much higher in independent schools than state – grammar or comprehensive. The percentage of A* and A grade passes is up by 2.5 percentage points compared with just 0.9 percentage points in comprehensives and (even lower) 0.4 percentage points for grade.
“It is a cause for concern that the inequality gap appears to have widened this year with independent schools increasing their haul of top grades at almost three times the rate of comprehensives,” said Nick Gibb, the Conservatives’ schools spokesman.
However, at A* to C grade, it was the comprehensives and secondary modern schools that had the biggest increase (1.6 and 1.9 percentage points respectively) compared to 1.3 percentage points for the independent schools.
Dr Cresswell said the differences between the sectors made a mockery of “naive” claims that the exam had been “dumbed down”.
He said that a glance at an average class of 30 GCSE pupils in 2003 and 2009 revealed that the improvement in grades would mean just 22 of them improving their performance by a grade in one subject.
“If you look at it in that way, if you weren’t getting something like that out of a school system in which you’re investing time, money and energy – if you’re not getting improvements at that level – then you’d be asking questions,” he added.
Yesterday’s results also included the first recorded by students taking the Government’s new flagship diplomas. Students on the course started studying for the two-year courses last year but a handful (91) completed the higher level diploma (equivalent to top grade GCSE passes) in a year. They showed no-one had got an A* or A grade while the failure rate was higher at 38.8 per cent. The students can retake the exam next year, though.
They also revealed good news for the Government’s flagship academies programme with the 63 operating long enough to have two years of exam results showing a 5.1 percentage point rise in the numbers achieving at least five A* to C grade passes including maths and English - likely to be above the national average.