Boys Beating Girls in A-Levels? – Err, No

Malala Yousafzai with fellow students Bethany Lucas and Beatrice Kessedjian at Edgbaston high school for girls. Malala will be attending Lady Margaret Hall college, Oxford

Well it’s results day and the newspapers are all full of those pictures of girls leaping for joy.

But wait – what’s this we read? The boys, long since written off as second-raters, are now trashing the girls? What? It cannot be. But in the Guardian we read,

Boys get more A*/A grades than girls for the first time in at least seven years

And in the Telegraph,

Boys beat girls to top grades for first time in 17 years

So it must be true, then, right? Err, no. You know what they say about lies, damned lies,…

Indeed, the skilful can generally present statistical data in a manner which suits their narrative. I dare say I could do it myself, if I weren’t such a scrupulously honest chap. In this case the successful misdirection is achieved simply by ignoring absolute numbers and concentrating instead on the number of top grades as a percentage of those of the same sex taking A-Levels. A simple extreme example shows what nonsense this statistic is.

Suppose a mere 10 boys took A-Levels but all got A grades, whilst a million girls took A-Levels and half got As and the other half Bs. The boys’ success rate at the top grade was thus 100%, but the girls’ a paltry 50% – so the boys are doing twice as well, then. You see how that works.

But surely no top-notch august journal like the Guardian or the Telegraph would pull such statistical stunts? Oh, yes they would. And they do it every year. For example, in 2014 the Telegraph announced, “A-levels 2014: gender gap between boys and girls closing” based on the same statistical legerdemain.

So, clearly, we need to look at absolute numbers. Figure 1 shows the number of people taking A-Levels from 1999 to 2016 broken down by sex (regardless of grade). Figure 2 is the percentage excess of girls over boys based on the same data (taken from here).

Figure 1 click to enlarge


Figure 2 click to enlarge

If you are more interested in the top grades, then for several years the number of girls awarded A*/A grades has exceeded the number of boys by over 23,000, or 24% more girls. And if we look at A*/A/B grades the excess of girls over boys was 60,500 in 2016 (and unlikely to be much different this year).

When it comes to entrance into the better universities, it is that last figure which counts. In fact, UCAS data shows that nearly 100,000 more girls than boys have applied to higher education (about 372,000 girls and about 277,000 boys – see Figure 3). So the excess of girls is even more emphatic at university entrance than at A-Level entrance (34% versus 24%). The recent trend for women to receive 35% more degrees per year than men is set to continue, or even to increase.

Figure 3 click to enlarge

Any female gender supremacists can heave a sigh of relief. Girls are still trashing boys every bit as much as ever, in fact increasingly so if anything.

So why do the news outlets give the opposite impression? Well, that will be because they don’t want people to know the truth – especially the parents of sons.

Now, about that gender pay gap……

13 thoughts on “Boys Beating Girls in A-Levels? – Err, No

  1. Pingback: The Usual Misinformation About A Levels | The Illustrated Empathy Gap

  2. Pingback: GCSE Results 2017 | The Illustrated Empathy Gap

  3. Paul Withrington

    Wage gap – the following is to the ONS, reply awaited.

    1. The data in the chart here needs clarifying. I understand it represents the differences in median hourly rates based on the hours paid. Could you confirm that and encourage those who produced the chart to add explanatory detail. That is ever so important since the casual observer, such as the media, may think the data refers to annual wages, let alone that the average and the median are not the same things.

    2. I have, from ASHE that full time men work 38.9 paid hours per week compared with 37.4 hours for full time women. In contrast the Labour Force Survey, tabulation HOURS 01, provides 39.3 hours actually worked by men compared with and 34.3 for women. Can you confirm that and that the chart in (1) above is indeed based on hours paid.

    3. In order to work out the median hourly rates for men and women based on hours worked one would need to adjust the data in (1). Here is an option. From the chart the multiplier on full time median hourly wages, women to men, is 1.094. Multiplying that by the ratio of the hours paid 38.9/37.4 provides the weekly values. Dividing the result by the ratio of the hours worked 39.4/34.3 yields the median hourly rate on an hours worked basis. That yields 0.99 meaning that there is no pay gap at all on hours worked. I believe that should be pointed out and highlighted within your data. Additionally, one of the reasons men are paid more on an the hours paid basis will be that they work more unpaid hours than the women thereby gaining credit etc Comment very much appreciated.

    1. William Collins Post author

      I suggest you look at which gives working hours and discusses the pay gap. Note in particular that the blue line in the graph following your link (ostensibly for combined full and part time working) is utter nonsense, as explained in the post.

  4. JB

    The main issue the data reveals is the massively lower number of boys doing A levels and University. The difference is so massive that surely urgent action to reverse the imbalance is needed?

    Is the imbalance the same at GCSE? Is it the lack of male teachers, the teaching style, or social pressures on boys to go out and earn money to support a family the cause of this imbalance?

    1. William Collins Post author

      There is a large gap at GCSE also, and this started when GCSEs replaced O Levels in 1987, see That same post shows that teacher bias against boys is detectable in KS2 SATS. The teacher bias against boys is explored in greater depth in this post: That the educational establishment is willing to change syllabuses to suit girls better is illustrated in this post: The serious and increasing educational disadvantage of males prompted the recently retired UCAS chief Mary Curnock Cook to highlight the problem – year after year – with remarks like “poor white males should now be the focus of outreach efforts“. Despite that, in replying to an FoI enquiry raised by J4MB, “Does the DoE recognize boys’ underachievement as a problem to be addressed, and if so, what initiatives are in place, and how much is budgeted for them in 2015/16?” the Department of Education responded on 30th July 2015 thus, “The Department does not fund any initiatives that just focus on addressing boys’ underachievement.” The matter is further discussed here:

      So – what is the cause of male educational underachievement? A feminised schooling system contributes. Lack of male role models – both at school and at home – contributes. But probably the most serious thing (and this is just my opinion) is the destruction of the male role. Boys now lack motivation because they don’t know what being a man consists of. And then there’s this – the disadvantage is, in effect, being driven by policy. Because the policy is to assist girls.

  5. James Murphy

    We who live in MSM darkness ought perhaps to be encouraged by the dawning prospect of more rebellious internet media outlets such as the heroic IEG. I hope and trust such endeavours will increasingly shine light on our moral and philosophical swamps. As ever, publicity is the thing. How to increase one’s profile?

  6. AJ

    The relative porportion of girls and boys achieving different grades is potentially a useful statistic it is how it is used that is a problem. As an example if the distribution of boys grades is wiegthed towards better grades than girls but a lower proportion of boys as a whole take the exam one hypothesis is that lower ability boys are being discouraged and are dropping out. This would be It is useful for generating possible means to address that poor performance that can than be tested.

    What is absurd is the double standard that when girls do well it is because girls are wonderful but when boys do ‘well’ it is because of an unfair system.

    The concept that girls don’t do well in exams is a extreme example of this. The gold standard means of measurements should obviously be one that is least susceptible to outside interference/cheating not the most susceptible. The most natural assumption is that girls do better in non-exam based assesment because it is open to outside influences.

    1. William Collins Post author

      Over all subjects, the percentage of excess girls gaining the top grades and the percentage of excess girls overall taking A-levels is about the same (24%). The same phenomenon is seen at universities with 35% more women being awarded degrees and the excess being awarded ‘good’ degrees (i.e., firsts or 2:1s) is also about 35%.

      However, there is a reversal of this when you look at specific subjects with an emphatic dominance of one sex. Thus, although only a small percentage of those taking physics A level are girls, the girls get a better grade at physics A level on average. Similarly, only a small percentage of those doing languages are boys, but the boys get the better grades. This phenomenon is easily explained by the self-selection effect.

      1. AJ

        Thanks for the reply. It is clear that the relative proportion of obtaining different grades is useful information as long as it is interpretted sensibly.

        I actually find it slighly odd that overall boys do not get higher grades with a lower participation level precisely because of the self selection effect. Having said that although I did very well acadmeically even in my days there was a lot of misandry. I was actually punished simply for being a boy- a girl had been disciplined for something that some boys had been doing as well without being caught so all the boys had to apologise to the girl (nonsensical I know). I refused as I had done nothing and even if I had I had done nothing to the girl concerned. It was the reasonably significant punishment of standing on a chair in the classroom corner for an entire school day at the age of 10. It goes without saying that the reverse never occured. Despite doing extremely well in exams I always had a lot of problems with teachers, more often than not had detentions and looking back it was always female teachers who for example hit me repeatedly in the head when I tried to communicate that someone had damaged the text book I had just been given. The homework I did for girls in my class always got higher marks than my own. I only received a school prize, and that for ‘progress’, when I was the only one in my comprehensive to get to Oxford or Cambridge. The only reason I did well, despite my terrible course work assesments, is that I could do exams where it did not matter what the teachers opinion of me was.

        I have never gone back and I am sure it is much worse now. I often think if I was at school now I may not even have got to university.

    2. Groan

      One need not assume this as there have been a number of research reports demonstrating Girls “benefit” from grade inflation in teacher marked assessments and in their “target” grades. Thus even if modules/ exams are marked without a clue to the gender the girls will have had inflated marks by teacher (and a lot of assessed work is by the teacher “verified” externally) and greater expectations when module/exams can be “resit” to try for a higher mark. The various reports put the “inflation” for girls at about 5% and generally suggested that the process is “marking up” girls rather than reducing boy’s marks. So in a strange way boy’s work remains the standard.
      I’m always a bit dubious about such research but give it some credence as the authors were testing the hypothesis that boys receive higher marks due to sexism. Not only did they disprove the hypothesis but found a striking similarity across different countries. This suggests something deeper than just recent feminist policies are at work.
      Of course the point is that these had confirmed “institutional” sexism in teacher assessments and marking and one would expect some serious consideration of this within the teaching profession and educational establishment. Particularly as underachievement of boys has finally struggled into at least some political consciousness. But no.

  7. Michael Porter

    This grotesque misrepresentation is perpetrated;
    1. To hide the truth.
    2. So that calls for more help for those poor underprivileged girls can be advanced yet further.

    What proportion of people during some representation or other, with unfacts machine gunned at them at speed, will be able to separate fact from assertions, from claims and allegations from lies and calumnies.

    Exponents of the technique have introduced rule by trickery.

    How they laughed.

  8. Groan

    I suspect its more specific than just parents. Its probably to blunt the weak but growing spread of action on the gender gap in education. Specifically locally I’ve seen that there are growing numbers of attempts to encourage boys reading. As you say the headlines give an entirely false impression and I’m sure they will contribute to a return to the general inaction on improving boys education. Since Mary Curnock Cook retired from UCAS I suspect the gender gap in applications etc in University to once again “vanish”.


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