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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
i100(More than you think)
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Guru Careers: Clinical Sales Exec / Medical Sales Exec / Field Sales

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Clinical Sales Exec / Medica...

Guru Careers: Clinical Sales Exec / Medical Sales Exec / Field Sales

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Clinical Sales Exec / Medica...

Guru Careers: Clinical Sales Exec / Medical Sales Exec / Field Sales

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Clinical Sales Exec / Medica...

Guru Careers: Clinical Sales Exec / Medical Sales Exec / Field Sales

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Clinical Sales Exec / Medica...

Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected