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Wednesday, 30 August, 2000, 11:47 GMT 12:47 UK
A-Levels: Why are girls outperforming boys?

Girls are now outperforming boys at A-level in the UK - as they do throughout their schooling.

The government wants more research to be done on the reasons why.

Among those put forward by educationalists are that girls work harder - and these days see career opportunities that in the past might not have been open to them.

And on the negative side, it is suggested that boys are victims of a "laddish" culture in which it is not cool to be academic.

Why are girls the A-level stars?

Here's your reaction:


It's a classic example of government management of a problem resulting in huge swings from one extreme to the other

Peter Logan, UK
Everyone asks why studies were not carried out when boys did better than girls. The simple answer is that they were. I remember my mother, a secondary school teacher, being involved in them in the late 1970's and early 1980's. It's a classic example of government management of a problem resulting in huge swings from one extreme to the other. No one can honestly claim that girls are brighter than boys or vice versa, so why not let the teachers get on with tailoring their lessons to individuals rather than being forced to wrap themselves in cloaks of political dogma.
Peter Logan, UK

Girls may tend to be a little more sensible in their teens. Put that together with the 'flunking is cool' subculture and the special attention given to women in every area of life this is no surprise. When boys become men in their twenties a lot of them suddenly get ambition and drive fast. This usually makes up for a misspent youth. It's hard out there in the real world.
Dan Peters, UK


Boys do better at degree level than their female counterparts

Mark Lisle , Germany
I feel this comparison is invalid for the following reasons.
The increase year on year is indicative that the educational standards are slipping. Vocational (work driven) qualifications should be brought into the equation, how many lads move into task related areas such as accountancy and law due to the lack of facilities in schools and still get university places. In conclusion a study published by yourselves yesterday indicated boys do better at degree level than their female counterparts. This indicates what we all know that lads mature slower than girls but we are all the same when we are adults.
Mark Lisle , Germany (UK citizen)

The government ought to compare the A-level results of people with the letter Q in their names against those without. If there's a difference, the system will have to be massively restructured to address the awful bias against the under-performing group, whatever the cost. Only when the average performance among all groups are identical can the guardians of equality let down their guard!
What nonsense this fixation with categorising people is. A-levels are taken by individuals, not by monolithic blocks of boys, girls or what have you. Focusing on arbitrary group performance, and demanding equal results among them all, is a fruitless exercise in idiocy.
Tom, USA

This difference is in the margin of accuracy and should not be used for these sweeping statements. However, if one does than it will have to do with drinking, boasting, going after the girls and other "extra" curricular activities. And, if one has to believe one government peer, and one must drink 14 pints to really count, that does not really help one's academic results, does it...
Johan de Min, Netherlands


The more intelligent boys are starting to realise that by going to Uni they are going to get in a lot of debt, sometimes for nothing

Chris, England
The more intelligent boys are starting to realise that by going to Uni they are going to get in a lot of debt, sometimes for nothing. This could effect the number of intelligent lads from doing A level in the first place. A 'hands on' qualification in engineering or construction would lead to a well paid job, where one can get paid for doing the course. Good thinking lads.
Chris, England

Forgive my ignorance, but how are lessons now more suitable for girls than boys? Can someone please answer? Also, the difference is so small that I'm surprised that there has been so much comment. It all seems quite normal to me.
Ruth, USA (Brit)

The way we are being told that the girls do better, statistically speaking, makes it sound as if us boys are not. The problem with A-levels, and indeed GCSEs, is that there has to be a story in it for the public and those lovely people who say A levels are easy. Try doing them yourselves - to do well you need to work yourself into the ground. Unless you are a genius.
Simon, England


Girls work harder at school now because there is such a huge choice of careers to choose from

Susy Fowler, UK
Girls work harder at school now because there is such a huge choice of careers to choose from, unlike 30 years ago when the options were marriage, marriage or marriage. The prospect of having control over your life and doing whatever you want to do is very exciting. Not many women now would be happy relying on a man for financial support so the incentive to achieve is so much greater. P.S. I am married and I have a successful career.
Susy Fowler, UK

Girls work harder than boys who think it is cool not to work.
Sophie Usher-Smith, UK

Why all the fuss about the differences in grades between boys and girls? What about about tables showing the differences between people with red hair and those with blonde hair or between those born on Fridays and those born on Mondays? Why is gender the criterion? There will be variations in any population.
Sue, UK

From the days when I took O and A levels, the mechanics of the examination have changed. Large portions of the available marks are now based on coursework and 'continual assessment', which tends to favour girls, and less is now apportioned to exams which used to favour boys. Girls tended not to cope with the pressure of exams, they had a tendency to revise themselves to a standstill and then not be able to get their knowledge onto the paper on the day. These days with coursework the immediate time pressure is removed and much of the stress with it. I feel that the balance has swung too far away from written exams, after all in life you often have to deliver things to tight deadlines.
Jon, UK


If the Government really want to spend money on the boys, shouldn't they instead be looking to set up a testicular and prostate cancer screening programmes

Colin, UK
If the Government really want to spend money on the boys, shouldn't they instead be looking to set up a testicular and prostate cancer screening programmes or investigate the reasons why so many teenagers and young men choose to take their own lives each year?
Colin, UK

What is fascinating is the fixation that results have a meaning at the end of the day. Women's careers for the most part are short-lived, on average 15 years, whereas male careers extend on to retirement. There is more than enough scope to redress the balance.
Chris Irvine, UK

I believe that the newly introduced modular system holds much of the responsibility for the statistics. It is a well known fact that even by A-level, girls are more mature than boys and are more inclined towards continuous study over the 2 years.
Louise, UK

Why worry that girls are now outperforming boys at A levels? It will give them a headstart when they enter the notoriously male-dominated worlds of higher education and employment.
Crispin, UK


Stop comparing and allow children to develop without starting a battle of the sexes in such tender years

A. Fairley, Scotland
Laddish behaviour was around when I was at school doing my cooking and sewing classes but 15 years ago it was called being boisterous. Oh and I was told back then that boys did better because they had more questioning minds and were more confident in asking questions. Stop comparing and allow children to develop without starting a battle of the sexes in such tender years.
A. Fairley, Scotland

Having two sons, 16 and 19, I think one of the reasons that girls now do better than boys is in some part due the fact that the majority of teachers are female, and over the years the syllabus has been given a very feminine slant.
Andy Haworth, UK

Sorry, but it is a bit depressing when you turn on the telly to be told that girls have done better than boys. As a 16 year old awaiting my GCSE results it is rather sickening to be told that basically it's boys' fault that they do too bad!
Matt, UK

Why is everyone getting so upset on the boys' behalf? They have had their share of coddling and support. This is a time to celebrate that girls are finally getting the recognition that they have deserved all along! You go girls!
Karki, Canada

I'll simply say that girls are harder workers than boys in the present era. They are very ambitious to outshine the boys.
Nisar Ahmad, Pakistan

I find it rather strange that the Government plans extensive research into why girls are now outperforming boys. There was little concern when it was the other way round.
Matt H., UK

I completed my A-levels two years ago and found that as one of only two girls undertaking a computing A-level, with a male teacher, I could easily have remained at a disadvantage as the atmosphere in lessons was always very laddish, with an emphasis on how little work the boys could get away with doing. However, in my history class, in which we were all female, there was a very different atmosphere. Although lessons too often resorted to gossiping, there was a feeling of competition when we came down to exams and essays.
Katherine, UK


Interesting debate and it seems to boil down to a few factors: this is an emotionally charged issue; girls mature earlier than boys; boys lack appropriate role models; boys catch up later

Dan, UK
Interesting debate and it seems to boil down to a few factors: this is an emotionally charged issue; girls mature earlier than boys; boys lack appropriate role models; boys catch up later. One issue, which hasn't been addressed particularly, is the employment one. I'm a city solicitor and even after a degree, law school, a two year training contract and years spent at a top firm, "A" levels are STILL a yardstick by which people are judged. They are very important and everyone should be provided with an environment in which they can flourish academically, musically, culturally and even in sport in order to produce not only a competitive and valuable workforce, but also a society which is more inclusive and sophisticated than that which exists in this country at this moment.
Dan, UK

This is a non-issue. If you assume that girls are as bright as boys are, there are obviously going to be years when girls outperform boys and vice versa. Why is all this fuss being made about it?
Marianne, Belgium

I think the educational system is biased against boys. When girls did better at GCSE at every subject except physics there was talk about whether physics was biased against girls, rather than whether all other subjects were biased against boys. When girls got better results than boys in all GCSE subjects I saw articles not about what should be done for boys but that A levels were biased against girls because girls were not getting higher levels in all subjects at A level. It seems boys are only considered after girls, i.e. only when girls get better results at every level in every subject.
John, UK


While the bias in teaching of A Levels is still debatable, the bias in teaching at degree level certainly is not

Katie Dowbiggin, UK
A lot of comments seem to be saying that exams are now "rigged" in favour of girls. Has nobody considered the possibility that they were previously rigged in favour of boys and the balance has now been addressed? Frankly the exam results do not surprise me: girls certainly do work harder in general. I think the problem here is that, while the bias in teaching of A levels is still debatable, the bias at degree level certainly is not.
Katie Dowbiggin, UK

If so many pupils can get three, four or even five A grades (many of them at state schools) why are people making such a fuss about someone who got A, B and C after having had one of the most expensive educations that money can buy?
K. Walsh, France

Girls are simply smarter than boys are.
Neil Byrne, England

Girls are doing better than boys because traditionally girls have achieved better results in project related work than exams. With the change of emphasis away from exams to course work this was always likely to happen.
Sean, Ireland

It's really quite simple. With the vast majority of teachers from infants school upwards being women, boys do not have any kind of role model at school to whom to look up to. Without such, boys are often more disruptive and lazy. We need more men teaching so that boys are no longer ignored by the females in the teaching profession.
Tom, UK

To "Simon" who claims A-levels are hard. I took 5 A-levels and my total revision notes were less than half an inch thick. I also got good grades. Employers are amazed that I did 5 when I did, whereas now people getting six or seven seem to appear every year. Do you expect me to believe the exams aren't getting easier? Really?
Karl Peters, UK


These exams are for individuals; the stories are purely media hype

John, UK
Does it matter what the demographic breakdown of the results is? These exams are for individuals; the stories are purely media hype. I cannot let Simon's comment go without a response. No one has said A-levels are easy, what has been postulated is that they are easier than they used to be. Also, as someone who took these exams in the 1970's, I am not a little insulted by the suggestion by school head teachers and others that the current crop of A-level students have worked hard to obtain their 4 or even 5 A-level passes, implying that those of us who have gone before didn't for our typically 3 A-level passes.
John, UK

The real issue is if women outperform men - when will this be translated into more women than men in business and politics? Probably not anytime soon in the only major Western country that still has such a high number of single-sex schools!
Nick G, UK

Why should it matter so much that girls are doing better? It's not by much anyway. If it was the other way round, there'd be no such fuss. Also don't single-sex schools for girls show they get even better results, so the boys had better watch out!
LCW, UK

It's been a tough summer for British lads. First they get slated by some American girl who calls them scrawny and pale. Now their academic achievements are called into question. If the US experience is any indicator, might I suggest the reason for the A level disparity is PC nonsense gone amuck with all emphasis on promoting girls and feminine touchy-feely stuff whilst the boys are denigrated as violence-prone little sociopaths. No wonder they tune out or become emasculated little twerps. Boys and girls are different and always will be. Let the lads be lads and they will do just fine, thank you.
Peter C. Kohler, USA


In my school it is the other way round, boys outperform girls across the board.

Yilmaz Mamedy, United Kingdom
In my school it is the other way round, boys outperform girls across the board. It is unfair to make the generalisation that girls are more diligent than boys. If there is national trend that girls are outperforming boys then the education department needs to implement schemes to readdress the balance. Instead it seems that they are more than happy to sit back and let this academic inequality continue perennially.
Yilmaz Mamedy, United Kingdom

Why should this surprise anyone? I mean, this is what the British government set out to do, I can understand why anyone is surprised now they have achieved their aims. Boys did do better than girls in the past, so the British Government set out to 'rig' the exams in favour of girls. Now that the exams are firmly sexist to favour girls (which doesn't seem to worry anyone), why are so many people surprised that they are coming out in front?
Steven, Australia

Sadly it seems there is a popular youth culture, among both boys AND girls to think of boys who do badly at school as 'cool' and boys who do well are rejected by boys AND girls as 'nerds'. Why the surprise then?
Judith, England

It's a shame that though girls out perform boys in many fields, they still receive less for their efforts. Sex should have nothing to do with success, and the media shouldn't run stories that encourage the sexes to compete rather than co-operate.
Thomas Smekal, Canada


Studies in under achievement of black youths has shown that a lack of black role models is to blame

Richard N, London
My good friend, a senior educational psychologist, has long talked of a noticeable gap of achievement opening between girls and boys at every subject in primary and secondary education. Evidently the most popular reason amongst his circle of professionals is that this gap is directly related to the number of fathers leaving their families, with the subsequent loss of male role-model for the male child. Studies in under achievement of black youths has shown that a lack of black role models is to blame - it looks like we've got the same problem on a much wider scale.
Richard N, London

What does it matter how well the rest of my gender did in their exams? Any women who get some feeling of superiority from this are really quite tragic. What it comes down to is how well YOU did. Without wishing to seem conceited, I don't care who did better, boys or girls, the point is that I did better than the majority.
Matt, Amsterdam, Netherlands (ex. UK)

I think the education establishment is biased against boys. When girls did better than boys at GCSE level in all subjects but physics; the talk was of whether physics was sexist against girls - not whether all the other subjects were sexist against boys. When girls got better GCSEs in ALL subjects the debate did not go to why boys are discriminated against but why A levels were sexist as girls were not doing better at all subjects there. It seems boys will only be considered when girls are doing better at every subject at every level.
John, London


Today's girls are aware that they simply cannot manage to run a family in the 21st century on a single income

Albert Devakaram, India
Girls in the UK seem to follow the footsteps of their counterparts in India by doing exceedingly well in the A level exams. The reason is not far to seek. Firstly, girls are more devoted to studies than boys. They are hardworking and are consistent in their approach to do their best and just that. Secondly, today's girls are aware that they simply cannot manage to run a family in the 21st century on a single income.
Albert Devakaram, India

I will be going into the Upper Sixth in September, and girls like myself feel they must prove themselves in this male dominated society. The statistics show that the hard work has paid off and the tables are turning
Emily McCauley, Northern Ireland


Are girls really outperforming boys?

HG, UK
Are girls really outperforming boys? The percentage difference appears tiny, and there must be a huge overlap between exam marks broken down by gender. In other words, there is probably a greater range of exam scores within girls, and within boys, as there are differences between them. I'll bet the differences aren't statistically significant. This is therefore a media-generated fuss about nothing caused by ignorance of statistics and the need for a good story.
HG, UK

Firstly that boys seem to have the idea that it is somehow "cool" to do badly at school. Secondly the forces of political correctness ensure that lessons are adjusted to suit girls better, thereby suiting girls better than boys. From the boys' perspective, a lesson that is increasingly directed at the girls coupled with the peer pressure to drop out and be thick can do little other than cause a drop in grades.
John B, UK

What is going on here? The British Government sounds like it's going to spend years and lots of money chasing nothing. Why weren't investigations done of how boys were "better" than girls. Perhaps they should introduce more tests on these youngsters! Alternatively, they could allow these individuals live their own lives and stop monitoring them.
Colin, Netherlands

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