In England, girls have out-performed boys since GCSE examinations were introduced in 1988. In 2006 63.4 per cent. of girls and 53.8 per cent. of boys achieved 5+ A*-C grade GCSEs (2007 results will be published later this month). Girls are ahead of boys overall at each phase of education from early years and foundation onwards. The largest gaps are in literacy and the smallest are in mathematics and science subjects. The gaps in England have been broadly stable over two decades, and are in line with those in other OECD countries.
The reasons for girls’ better attainment in literacy and indeed overall are complex, but appear mainly related to biological differences, differences in maturation, and differences in attitudes to learning and reading at different ages. The Department's recently published research paper “Gender and education: the evidence on pupils in England”, of which there is a copy in the Library of the House, sets out the research evidence.
Four points should be noted:
first, boys’ attainment has improved sharply over the past decade, broadly keeping pace with that of girls;
second, there are also issues of girls' under-attainment, and of girls' subject choices, which are worthy of attention;
third, gender gaps can be minimised by inclusive teaching strategies, and by the encouragement of reading;
fourth, the key objective is that every individual pupil is stretched to his or her full potential.
The Government’s strategy, reflecting this last point, is to continue to improve teaching and learning with a special focus on personalised learning and the progress made by each individual pupil. In addition, the Department is planning a programme of school-level investigations and action research activities on gender issues. This programme will build on existing departmental initiatives focused on boys’ literacy, such as “Boys Into Books” which has enabled every state-funded secondary school in England to select for its library 20 free books targeted at teenage boys. It will also include issues of girls’ under-attainment, and girls’ subject choices. The activities will feed into the forthcoming National Year of Reading which will promote reading both for leisure and school attainment purposes.