General Teaching Council Northern Ireland

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Boys expected to gain more top A-levels



Changes to A-levels, including a reduction in course modules, is likely to benefit male students in a move that could turn the traditional gender divide on its head.

Around one in 14 exam entries is expected to be awarded the top grade this summer, which is being introduced to pick out the most exceptional candidates.

The prediction comes just days before more than 260,000 teenagers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are due to receive their A-level results.

Prof Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said girls performed better than boys for the last 10 years but that could change.

"The interesting thing here is that in any test or examination, the boys' scores tend to be more spread out than the girls' scores,” he said.

"More of them tend to do very well at the top, and more of them tend to fail.”

Girls often do better because on average they are more consistent and conscientious and benefit from more regular assessment, Prof Smithers said.

He added: "Now we have got these stretch and challenge questions and a change in format, we may well see that the boys get as many, if not more A* grades than the girls, particularly in maths and the physical sciences.

"In previous years there were six modules and this was really rewarding conscientious application. This is something that girls are more likely to do, they are more inclined to apply themselves than boys.

"Boys tend to favour end of course examinations."

Changes to the qualifications for the first time this year mean that top performing sixth-formers can be awarded the new A* grade. They are expected to score more than 90 per cent to gain the top mark.

Students also take four modules instead of six, and answer more challenging questions designed to allow them to fully demonstrate their knowledge.

Figures show that until changes to A-level exams were introduced in 2000, boys tended to get more A grades than girls.

In 1995, 16.2 per cent of boys’ A-level grades were As, compared with 14.6 per cent of girls' grades.

But the Curriculum 2000 reforms brought in AS-levels and modular exams, and a swing to girls outperforming boys.

In 2000, when some exams had already become modular, 17.5 per cent of boys' grades were As compared with 18.1 per cent of girls' grades.

By 2002, when the reforms took effect, 21.9 per cent of girls' grades were As, against 19.3 per cent of boys.

According to an analysis published by the exams regulator Ofqual earlier this year, around seven per cent of exam entries overall are expected to be given an A* this summer.

A separate study by the Independent Schools Council suggested that privately-educated pupils were likely to gain three times as many top grades as candidates from the state sector.


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