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School Attainment

Volume 602: debated on Thursday 26 November 2015

3. What assessment she has made of the difference in levels of attainment between boys and girls at school. (902381)

Thanks to our reforms and the hard work of teachers across the country, more pupils—boys and girls—are getting the education they deserve. Girls outperform boys on average at both primary and secondary school, but while girls have higher attainment, they are less likely to pursue subjects such as physics and maths. As Education Secretary, I am aware of all those issues and determined to tackle them.

I thank the Secretary of State for that response, but the sad reality is that, in 2014, 10% fewer boys attained A* to C at GCSE, including maths and English. What steps will she take as Minister for Women and Equalities and Education Secretary to close this gender gap and help boys to achieve their full potential?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important issue. There is certainly more that we need to do to tackle underachievement among boys, especially among white working-class boys, I am sorry to say. The Chancellor has committed to the pupil premium, worth £2.5 billion, for the rest of this Parliament; a quarter of white British boys are eligible for that funding. We need to do more to explain to young men the careers that are out there and why they will need skills such as maths, but we also need to think about parental engagement—a lot of the messages will come from home that education is very valuable and that boys as well as girls need to focus in school.

Addressing the education attainment gap is important, but equally important is addressing the gap in work. A recent event held in Northern Ireland by the STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—industries showed that men outnumber women three to one in the workforce. What steps have been taken to reduce the gender gap, not only in education, but in wider employment?

I am delighted to hear about that successful event. That illustrates the point I was making about needing to inspire young people—boys and girls—about the careers that are out there and the importance of STEM subjects. I am delighted to say that maths is now the most popular subject at A-level, and there have been 12,000 more STEM A-level entries from girls since the start of the last Parliament, but there is a long way to go.

Has my right hon. Friend considered whether the disparity between the numbers of male and female teachers, especially in primary schools, is affecting the attainment level of boys?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Young people benefit from strong role models, and we have an excellent workforce in our primary schools, with 82% of teaching in those schools rated good or outstanding. I would like to see more male teachers; equally, I would like to see more female headteachers in our secondary schools.