There's no such thing as a 'gender gap' in A-level results

A difference of half a per cent between girls and boys getting A*s is completely meaningless - but that doesn't deter the media frenzy

Last week saw the release of the class of 2013’s A-level results, and with them the shock revelation of a growing gender gap in results.

"Boy, you’ve done well!” the headlines ran; to take the media coverage at face value is to believe that the coveted top grade was an achievement reserved solely for the boys, while their female peers were left blinking in the dust in the so-called “race for A*s”.

In the following days all sorts of explanations came to light, with everything from subject choice to risk-taking put forth as possible factors behind the apparent male domination of A-levels. Mike Nicholson, the director of undergraduate admissions at Oxford, told the press last week that boys do better than girls in exams because they 'tend to be much more prepared to take risks' that set them apart from fellow candidates. So far, so damning. What hope is there, then, for us girls?

Well, let’s take a moment to look at the statistics. If we look beyond the headlines, it becomes immediately apparent that the 'gap' in question is more pavement crack than Grand Canyon. In 2013, 7.9 per cent of papers taken by boys were awarded the top grade, compared to 7.4 per cent for girls, meaning that the gap in question is a mere half per cent.

So what’s all the fuss about? Half of a percentage point is not enough to suggest that girls are getting stupider, nor does it tell us anything meaningful about the state of our education system. Indeed, when taken in conjunction with further reports about gender divide in subject choices, the statistics seem even more meaningless.

Arguably, it is more difficult to achieve an A* in an apparently 'girly' subject such as history, where the marking is necessarily subjective, than in a science paper where the answer is either right or wrong. This is reflected in the fact that 9.2 per cent of all physics papers sat were awarded an A*, compared to 6.5 per cent of English papers, suggesting that A*s are statistically more likely in the subjects favoured by boys. In fact, breaking these results down further shows that girls are 1.7 per cent more likely to get an A* in Physics than their male classmates, despite the male-dominated environment. This, however, does not get a headline, but why should it? Success is success, regardless of gender.

If you’re bored already, I don’t blame you. I am merely pointing out that statistics, phrased correctly, can be used as evidence for anything. Unless we feel the need to deduce from this 0.5 per cent that the male brain is evolving at a rate exceeding that of the female, I don’t think girls have anything to worry about. Come next year the story will be the same, but maybe the genders will be reversed? We’ll have to wait and see – but we can be sure that the number-crunching will be as sensationalist and superfluous as before.  

Suggested Topics
Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of Jane Austen classic - with a twist

Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
tv

News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes hobby look 'dysfunctional'
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

KS1 Float Teacher needed in the Vale

£100 - £110 per day + Travel scheme plus free professional trainnig: Randstad ...

Science Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Are you a qualified secondary...

KS2 Float Teacher required in Caerphilly

£100 - £110 per day + Travel Scheme plus free professional training: Randstad ...

Science Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Are you a qualified secondary...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week