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[Click for documents on Gender and Subject Choice, Gender and Hidden Curriculum and for a PowerPoint on Gender and Educational Achievement

Page last edited: 07/04/2018 :

Gender and Educational Achievement



Useful Links

  • Click here for Gender, Labelling and STEM subjects. NEW link added November 2017
  • Click here for BBC coverage of Increased Higher Education Gender Gap NEW link added September 2017
  • Own  documents on Gender and Subject Choice, Gender and Hidden Curriculum and  a PowerPoint on Gender and Educational Achievement 
  • Click here for video lecture on Gender and Educational Achievement by Professor Becky Francis .  This is a very useful informative  resource
  • Click here for a brief analysis of the Gender Identities of High Achieving Pupils by Professor Becky Francis. this is again a very interesting item which might provoke some class discussion.
  •  A   new secondary school accountability system was introduced in 2016. Click here for DFE statistics relating to 2016/17 GCSE results  For data on ethnicity, free school meal eligibility and gender scroll down to pp22-34  of the statistical first release. Further information can be found in the accompanying Characteristics National Tables where Table 2a is especially useful


  • You may also click here for a recent DFE Report on destinations of pupils after Key Stages 4 and 5 which has useful information on access to Higher Education and ethnicity, free school meal eligibility , gender and special educational needs on pp 23- 28....and much more . New link added January 2017  
  • [I have not discussed the  relative effects of single sex and co-educational schools as determinants of educational attainment but you may click here  and here  and here  and here  and here for five useful sources on this controversial debate. Here is another more recent source]  


  • In all of my documents on Gender and Educational Achievement I have concentrated only on educational achievement at GCSE level and beyond. However recent information on gender and pre-school educational levels and educational achievement at Key Stages One and  Two  can be found via the following links to DFE data publications. Students may use this data to assess whether and to what extent gender differences in educational achievement are apparent at an early age.

    Click here for BBC item on gender and pre-school educational levels

    Click here and here   for some recent Guardian articles
    Key Stage 1 2017 Results Girls outperform boys     Go to SFR and scroll to pages 4-7: girls out perform boys and FSM pupils perform worse than other pupils
    Key Stage 2 Results 2017        Go to  SFR and scroll to page 16. Girls out-perform boys in reading and writing but not in Mathematics FSM pupils perform worse than other pupils  



Quite a large proportion of this document is taken up with fairly detailed presentation of the statistics on gender and educational achievement. However you may use the following links to reach the "Analysis" sections of the document and Part Two does begin with summary data on gender and educational attainment from the 1980s onwards. You may then dip into some of the detailed statistics if you so wish.

Part One: Introduction.

Part Two [Section A] Explaining Female Relative Educational Under-Achievement in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s

Part Two [Section B] Explaining the Relative Improvement in Female Educational Achievement from the 1980s onwards

Part Three: Explaining the slower rate of improvement of male educational achievement 

Part Four: Appendix: Backlash Arguments, Moral Panics and the Underclass

 There can be absolutely no doubt that historically females have faced serious obstacles both in society generally and within the education system which prevented most of them from achieving the educational levels of which they were clearly capable. Even when the Tripartite System of Secondary Education was introduced in 1945   the 11+ Examination was organised in such a way that the pass mark was set higher for females than males to counteract the possibility that females would achieve a disproportionate share of Grammar School places.[Click here for an article by Harvey Goldstein confirming this point.] However educational prospects for females did gradually improve in the latter half of the 20th Century.

By the early 1960s boys were still more likely than girls to enter for GCE "O level" examinations but the percentages of male and female entrants actually passing these examinations were fairly similar although there were significant gender differences in subject choices which restricted females' career choices. Also many girls who had passed these examinations and shown the capacities for Advanced Level courses did not continue their studies at Advanced Level so that despite relative gender equality of educational achievement at 16+ level , a greater proportion of males than females remained in full time education post 16 and entered for Advanced Level examinations where gender differences in subject choice remained substantial. Also at this time male students were more successful than female students in the Advanced Level examinations so that male students were therefore more likely than females to enrol on  Undergraduate courses.

Following the introduction of the GCSE in 1988 the GCSE examination results of female students improved more than those  of male students so that the performance gap between female and male students at GCSE level increased . This overall relative improvement in female examination results at 16+ level occurred primarily because female students extended their traditionally superior performance in Languages and Humanities  but also reversed males' traditionally superior examination performances in Mathematics and the Sciences  although the gender differences in examination results in these latter subjects remained relatively small.

 An overall gender gap of approximately 10% in the proportions of females and males gaining 5 or more A/A*-C grades at GCSE level  has persisted since the late 1980s  and gender differences in subject choice at  GCSE level declined especially after the introduction of the National Curriculum in 1988 which made Science subjects compulsory at GCSE Level.

Increasingly also more females enrolled on Advanced Level courses and they began by the 1990s to outperform males in the Advanced Level examinations with the result that females now became more likely than males to enrol on Undergraduate courses. However by 2017 although the female GCE Advanced Level A*-E pass rate exceeded the male A*-E pass rate and females had a slightly higher Average Points score per A Level subject the male [A*+A combined] pass rate exceeded the female [A*+A combined ] pass rate. Nevertheless females were more likely than males to enrol oh Higher Education courses but there were  significant  differences in subject choice at both Advanced and Undergraduate Levels substantial with females relatively more likely to enrol on Arts and Humanities courses and males more likely to enrol on Maths, Science and Engineering. Females are currently very slightly less likely than males to be awarded First Class degrees but significantly more likely than males to be awarded Upper Second Class degrees.

In this document I shall also consider interrelationships between gender, ethnicity and free school meal eligibility. Free School meal eligibility is often used as a not entirely satisfactory measure of working class membership.

  Part Two: Explaining Trends in the Relationship between Gender and Educational Achievement.

[Section A] Explaining the Relative Educational Underachievement of Female Students up to the 1980s.

As stated above female students outperformed male students in 16+ examinations from the late 1960s onwards but could nevertheless be said to be "under-achieving at GCE Advanced Level so that they were also less likely than males to enrol on undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Sociological studies from the 1960s to the 1980s focused on the educational disadvantages which  female students faced within society generally and within the education system in particular. These studies, although now rather dated ,remain important  partly as  useful analyses of their time and also because they may point to still existing  disadvantages which  prevent females from improving their educational achievements even more than they have done in recent years.

In this section  of the document  I shall be provide information on these earlier studies before concentrating in Section B] on the extent of and reasons for the relative improvement of female educational qualifications since the late 1980s. It will be important also to relate the analysis of gender and educational achievement to relationships between social class, ethnicity and educational achievement.

Three  main types of theory  were used to explain the relative educational underachievement of female pupils.

  • Biologically based theories
  • Theories based upon overall gender differences in socialisation throughout UK society.
  • Theories focusing especially on the organisation of schools.

With regard to biologically based theories, it has variously been argued  throughout history that women have smaller brains than men,  that the different shapes of male and female brains give men advantages in mathematical and technical subjects and that women are more likely than men to be ruled by their emotions.

Since steam may by now be escaping from students' ears  it is important to note immediately that such ideas have been subjected to massive criticisms which are listed below.

  1. It should be noted that relative to average body weight female brains are actually larger than male brains.
  2. Even though the limitations of IQ tests are well known ,data  derived from IQ tests do not suggest that females are less intelligent than males.
  3. Some psychologists have produced data to suggest that female babies have inherently superior linguistic abilities relative to male babies.
  4. Since , in any case, average female educational achievements have surpassed males' at all levels of the UK education system , claims that females are intellectually inferior have been revealed as totally unsupportable. 

[Click here for an article by Harvey Goldstein who provides additional information on these issues.]



There have also been sociologically based arguments suggesting that females' relative educational under achievement  could have been explained by gender differences in the socialisation process as it operates in UK society and other similar societies. The Socialisation Process  is a very important concept in Sociology which refers to the various mechanisms which operate in the socialisation agencies[ such as the family, the education system, the Church, the mass media and the work place to ensure that individuals accept the values, attitudes and norms of their society.

Perhaps the best known study which emphasised the importance of gender socialisation as an influence on educational achievement was Sue Sharpe's "Just Like a Girl[1976]. Sue Sharpe  concluded on the basis of a study of mainly working class girls in London in the early 1970s that their main concerns  were "love, marriage, children, jobs and careers more or less in that order." Clearly, if these girls saw careers as a relatively  insignificant  priority , they would have been unlikely  to attach much importance to the gaining of educational qualifications. [However when she  repeated the research in the 1990s, she found that careers ranked much more highly in the order of girls' priorities which could have been a factor contributing to their increasing education achievement]

The following activity is designed to illustrate how gender differences in socialisation could , in principle, help to explain gender differences in educational achievement.


1.Prior to the 1970s   many UK wives would have operated as full-time housewives and mothers while their husbands were in paid employment. How might these domestic arrangements have affected the career aspirations of male and female children brought up in such families?

2. How might differences in career aspirations have affected attitudes to education of male and female students respectively?

3. How may career advice provided within the family for sons have varied to that provided for daughters?

4. What impact may the teenage magazines of the 1960s and 1970s have had on male and female attitudes to education?


Sociologists also developed theories which suggested that gender differences in educational achieved could be explained by a range of factors within the organisation of schools themselves which were operating to the relative disadvantage of female students. Studies focussing on the schools themselves [for example in the work of  Lesley Best, Michelle Stanworth, B. Licht and C. Dweck and others] emphasised the following factors which might restrict girls' educational achievements.

  1. Reading schemes encouraged acceptance of traditional gender roles.
  2. Teachers gave less attention to girls.
  3. Teachers failed to rebuke boys who verbally abused girls.
  4. Boys monopolised science equipment which restricted girls' opportunities.
  5. Girls' worried that if they appeared "too intelligent" this would reduce their attractiveness to boys and thereby undermine their femininity.
  6. Teachers had stereotypical expectations about girls' future career prospects.
  7. Girls were lacking in confidence relative to boys because of the ways in which they were treated in school.
  8. Some subjects within the school curriculum [e.g. Domestic Science ]encouraged girls to see their future as housewives and mothers rather than in full-time employment.
  9. Career Guidance in schools may have dissuaded some girls from continuing with their education and pursuing well paid professional careers.

It must be noted that these conclusions were all based upon small scale studies which  may, as a result not have been  representative. The studies are also now rather dated and teaching methods may now be more enlightened [perhaps not least as  a result of the insights which were provided in these earlier studies] but it is nevertheless possible that female students still suffer some of these disadvantages and  that their examination results are improving more rapidly than boys despite this.


1. Use your textbook to find further information about the sociological studies of Lesley Best, Michelle Stanworth, B. Licht and C. Dweck

2.On the basis of your own experiences of education to what extent would you agree that female students continue to face the same kinds of educational disadvantages mentioned in the above studies? Or have these problems disappeared?


Before attempting to analyse the reasons for gender differences in educational achievement I have included quite a lot of statistical information on the actual patterns of gender differences in educational achievement at GCSE, GCE Advanced Level and Degree Level .  The main points in relation to students in England and Wales are  as listed below and students might like to use some of the statistics to support these summary points . However they should be advised by their teachers as to how to summarise this data for examination purposes and should not spend too much time on the exact details shown in the subsequent  charts and tables .

1. GCSE Results

Girls have outperformed boys in 16 + examinations since at least the late 1960s but these overall gender differences in educational achievement began to increase in the late 1980s after the introduction of the GCSE


 Gender and Overall GCSE Pass Grades A*-C 2011- 2016 .


You may  Click here for the  DFE statistics relating to  2013/2014 GCSE results   and Click here for DfE publication; Revised GCSE and equivalent results in England 2014-15 [DFE]. It is very important to note that as a result of various methodological changes introduced in 2013/14  the 2013/14 examination statistics are not comparable to those of previous years [Once you reach the DFE  page you may find it best to click on the SFR [Statistical First Release]  PDF link  which provides  information educational attainments at GCSE level relating to Gender, Ethnicity, Free School Meal Eligibility and whether or not English is the pupils' first language. More detailed information may be found by clicking on National and Local Authority Data and finding Tables 1 and 2.. 

         With regard to Gender the SFR data indicate that between 2006/7 and 2014/15 girls have on average consistently outperformed boys at GCSE level in terms of the proportions of girls and boys achieving five or more GCSE grades A*-C  and in the proportions achieving five or more GCSE grades A*-C  including English and Mathematics. [From 2016 onwards different overall measures of attainment based upon the EBacc and Attianment8 and Progress 8 measures have been used as we shall see below]


         Girls out-perform boys at GCSE level in every social class although of course, middle class boys out-perform working class girls. You may click here and then scroll to page 45 for DCFS [now DFE] data on the relationships between gender, social class and GCSE attainment in 2004. I have not been able to find more recent data However recent data are available which illustrate substantial differences in attainment between pupils eligible and ineligible for free school meals. 

         These data on Free school meal eligibility indicate that many girls still underachieve at school and it is vital that we do not neglect  the importance of the continuing relative under-achievement of many working class girls and especially of many girls eligible for free school meals [FSM] .You may  Click here for an article from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation Site on the difficulties which some  mainly working class girls continue to face within the UK education system.

         The following information on Gender, Free School Meal Eligibility and GCSE Attainment has  been, extracted from  SFR  2011/12 -SFR 2016/17 on   GCSE Attainment and Pupil Characteristics


Table : Gender, Free School Meal Eligibility and Percentages of Pupils gaining 5 or more GCSE A*-C  Grades including English and Mathematics 2008/9 - 2016/17 [Sources : DFE SFR Various Years:  GCSE Attainment and Pupil Characteristics: ]

Pupil Category

% gaining 5 or more A*-C GCSE Grades inc English and Maths in 2008/9

% gaining 5 or more A*-C GCSE Grades  inc English and Maths in 2009/10

% gaining 5 or more A*-C GCSE Grades inc English and maths in 2010/11

% gaining 5 or more A*-C GCSE Grades inc. English and Maths in 2011/12

% gaining 5 or more A*-C GCSE Grades inc. English and Maths in 2012/2013

% gaining 5 or more A*-C GCSE Grades inc English and Maths in 2013/14

%gaining 5 or more A*-C GCSE Grades inc English  and  Maths in 2014/15 % achieving the EBacc [with9-4 grades in English and Maths]   2016/17

Boys FSM






29.2 29.3 7.6

Girls  FSM






38.0 37.2 13.2

Total FSM






33.5 33.1 10.3

Boys NFSM/Unclassified






55.4 56.2 20.4

Girls NFSM/Unclassified






65.7 65.8 31.4

Total NFSM/Unclassified






60.5 60.9 25.9

All Boys






51.6 52.5 18.7

All Girls






61.7 61.8 26.9

All Pupils






56.6 57.1 23.7
Gender Gap-F-M


7.4 7.3 9.3 8.1 10.1 9.3 8.2

Total NFSM-FSM Gap









 Between 2008/9 and 2014/15 the gender gap fluctuated between 7.3% and 10.1% while the NFSM-FSM gap fluctuated between 26.3% and 27.8% It is very important to note however that as  a result of methodological changes introduced in 2013-2014 results in 2013/14 and 2014/15 are not comparable to earlier results.

The 2016/17 data are in no way directly comparable with all of these previous years  although once again the gender gap is smaller than the NFSM Unclassified/FSM gap..


1. Using  information in the above table  on Gender, Free School Meal Eligibility and Educational Attainment answer the following questions.

  • What percentage of all boys gained 5 or more A*-C GCSE grades including English and Maths in 2014/15?
  • What percentage of all girls gained 5 or more A*-C GCSE grades including English and Maths in 2014/15?
  • What percentages of boys eligible for FSM and ineligible for FSM/unclassified  gained 5 or more A*-C GCSE grades including English and Maths in  2014/15 ?
  • What percentages of girls eligible for FSM and ineligible for FSM/Unclassified  gained 5 or more A*-C grades including English and Maths in 2014/15?


  • What percentage of all boys achieved the EBacc with English and Mathematics grades 9-4 in 2016/17?
  • What percentage of all girls achieved the EBacc with English and Mathematics grades 9-4 in 2016/17?
  • What percentages of boys eligible for FSM and ineligible for FSM/unclassified  achieved the EBacc with English and Mathematics grades 9-4 in 2016/17?
  • What percentages of girls eligible for FSM and ineligible for FSM/Unclassified  achieved the EBacc with English and Mathematics grades 9-4 in 2016/17?

 Which factor seems to be the more significant influence on educational achievement :  Gender or Free School Meal Eligibility?

3. Which factor seems to be the more significant influence on educational achievement: gender or social class?

4. However it is important to consider interrelationships between gender, free school meal eligibility and ethnicity. It can then be shown that using EBacc attainment as a measure of achievement in 2016/17 the overall size of the free school meal eligibility/all other students  gap is heavily influenced by the size of the gap among white British students who are a large majority of the total student cohort. For White British students the FSM eligibility/all other students  is far greater than the Gender gap but the reverse is true in the case of Asian students, Pakistani students, Bangladeshi students, [but not Indian students], Black African students,  Black Caribbean students and Any Other Black students. For Chinese students  the Gender gap was 12% but Chinese FSM pupils actually outperformed all other Chinese students. [See following table.]

 I have extracted the following information from DfE data on the 2016/17 GCSE examinations


Gender, Ethnicity and Free School Meal Eligibility

Percentages of Pupils achieving the EBacc with English and Mathematics grades 9-4 in 2016/17


  All Boys All Girls Gender Gap FSM Eligible All Other Pupils FSM Eligibility Gap All Pupils
All Pupils 18.7 28.9 10.2 10.3 25.8 15.5 23.7
White 17.7 27.5 9.8 6.9 24.6 17.7 22.5
White British 17.3 27.2 9.9 6.6 24.2 17.6 22.1
Irish 30.6 39.2 8.2 10.3 38.1 27.8 34.8
Traveller of Irish Heritage x x x x x x 3.4
Gypsy Roma x x x x x x 1.7
Any other White 23.6 33.4 9.8 18.7 29.4 10.7 29.4
Mixed 21.4 31.1 6.7 12.4 29.4 17.0 26.3
Asian 25.0 37.0 12 19.6 33.1 13.5 30.9
Indian 35.2 49.4 14.2 26.1 43.2 17.1 42.0
Pakistani 16.8 27.4 10.6 **** 15.3 23.7 8.4 22.0
Bangladeshi 23.2 34.2 11.0 **** 23.7 30.9 7.2 28.9
Any other Asian 30.0 44.5 14.5 21.7 39.1 17.4 36.9
Black 16.8 29.6 12.8 10.6 25.0 14.4 23.2
Black Caribbean 10.1 21.6 11.5**** 9.7 17.6 7.9 15.8
Black African 19.9 33.3 13.4**** 20.0 29.4 9.4 26.6
Any other Black 14.6 27.1 12.5***** 14.1 22.7 8.6 26.8
Chinese 46.9 58.9 12.0**** 52.7 52.6 -0.1 52.6
Any other ethnic group 24.1 35,5 11.4***** 23.5 31.4 7.9 29.5

Click here for an EXCEL chart on the relative sizes of Gender gaps and FSM eligibility gaps

1.      Pupils   in every ethnic group [other than Chinese pupils] are less likely to be successful in GCSE examinations if they are eligible for free school meals.

2.      However the  effects of free school meal eligibility vary considerably between different ethnic groups .

3.      Note that White and White British pupils who are eligible for Free School Meals achieve worse results than pupils eligible for Free School Meals in any other ethic group apart from pupils who are in the Traveller of Irish descent and Gypsy Roma ethnic groups.

4.      In the case of White,White British Irish and Mixed Race pupils the FSM/ eligibility gap is considerably greater than the gender gap but in some other ethnic groups the gender gap exceeds the FSM eligibility gap as is indicated by the asterisks in the above table.


 Gender and  Overall GCE Advanced Level  Subject Entries and Pass Grades     2011-2017: UK Students

In 2017 English students sat Advanced Level Examinations  in some reformed subjects in which the degree of difficulty had been increased and the Final examinations occurred at the end of the second year and in some unreformed modular examinations. Welsh students sat some examinations which were more difficult but with the modular examination system retained. Some indication of the changes in examination results between 2016 and 2017 for English students is given here

Gender differences in examination results are smaller at GCE Advanced level than at GCSE Level. The female A*-E pass rate  between 2011 and 2017 has been approximately 1% higher than the male A*-E pass  rate. Females have in the past outperformed males in terms of the percentages securing A* grades  but in 2012 males outperformed females at A* level and this has continued in 2013-2017,  although females continued to outperform males in  terms of the percentages of students achieving  A* and A grades combined until 2016/17 when the male {A*+A] pass rate exceeded the female {A*+A] pass rate.

You may find more DFE data here on gender differences in achievement in the 2016/17 GCE Advanced Level Examinations. Scroll down to page 10-11  . Female students have a slightly higher points score per entry ; they also had a higher points score per entry in the 3 best A level results per pupil; however  a larger percentage of males achieved 3A*-A results or better; males were more likely to achieve grades AAB or higher; and males were more likely  to achieve AAB or higher when at least two A levels were "facilitating subjects."


There are always considerable controversies around the publication of A level statistics. For example it was suggested in 2017 that the gender differences in results could be explained partly by the fact that males were more likely than females to opt for A Level subjects in which the proportions of A/A* grades awarded were particularly high. Some mass media coverage of these issues is included here.

Some Analysis of the 2017 Advanced Level Results.

GCE Advanced Level results for 2017 can be found here by clicking here for the Joint Council for Qualifications Website. Note that there are also links to detailed analysis of these results and there are also links to detailed annual statistics going back to 2001

  1. The overall UK A*-E pass rate fell to  97.9%[2017]  compared 98.1%in 2016 . For females the A*-E pass rate fell to 98.3% from 98.5%  For males the A*-E pass rate fell to 97.3% from 97.6%
  2. In the UK the percentage of A*/A grades increased to 26.3%  [2017] from 25.8% [2016]
  3. The% of male subject entries  awarded  A*/A pass grades increased to 26.6% from 25.7% in 2016;   the % of female entries awarded A*/A increased to 26.1% from 26.0% in 2016
  4. Thus on this basis a positive Male -Female Gender gap of 0.5%  in 2017 replaced a 0.3 positive Female-Male gender gap in 2016. Click here for a BBC article and here for a Guardian article. However other bases of comparison are possible!!!
  5. In England new end of course examinations  were sat for the first time in 13 reformed subjects. Examination performance in these subjects has been analysed in TES article on Gender and Advanced Level Results  and  here in an  article from the Guardian. Results in these examinations did decline and  the gender gap in attainment was also reduced. It was speculated that this was likely due to the switch to end of course examinations which was assumed to favour males but experts from education datalab [ quoted here ]  have questioned this line of argument.
  6. Click here for an article from educationdatalab on examination results in the Reformed A Level subjects.There are some interesting comparisons between Reformed and Unreformed A Level results here.
  7. Although on the basis of points 2 -5 it has been claimed that male results have improved in relation to female results it has been pointed out also that females continue to out -perform males in many individual subjects and that  the better overall male results  arise to a considerable  extent because males out perform females in a relatively small number of subjects where examination entries and proportions of A* and A grades awarded are relatively high [e.g. Mathematics] Click here for an item on A Levels from the BBC's More or Less
  8. It is also pointed out that total female A Level entries are are far greater than total male A level entries  so that even where a larger percentage of male than female subject entries are  awarded A* grades the number of male and female A*grade  awards is very similar. Click here  for an article from The Conversation
  9. It is pointed out also that the number of females gaining university places in 2017 is far greater than the number of males and this alone suggests that claims of relative male educational progress should be treated with care.  Click here for a Guardian article on Gender differences in access to university



These are some statistics which I have collated over the past few years. Some of them have been used in the above text but I think that Advanced Level Sociology students can probably disregard the rest of this table unless something sparks your interest!


  2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 Comment
Total Entries 867,317 861,819 850,752 833,807 850,749 836,705   Fluctuating total entries . Decline in entries between 2015 and 2016
Total Female Entries 401,676 465,905 461,202 453,984 467,399 461,478   Total female entries consistently exceed total mail entries
Total Male Entries 465,641 395,914 389,550 379,823 383350 375,226    
Overall A*-E Pass Rate 97.8 98 98.1 98.0 98.1 98.1 97.9 A*-E Pass rate rose in 2012 and 2013 for 30th and 31st consecutive year. Fell in 2014 but increased slightly in 2015. No change between 2015 and 2016
Female A*-E Pass Rate 98.3 98.4 98.5 98.4 98.5 98.5 98.3 Very slight reduction in gender gap 2011-2015
Male A*-E  Pass Rate 97.3 97.5 97.6 97.4 97.5 97.6 97.3 As above
Overall A* Pass Rate 8.2 7.9 7.6 8.2 8.2 8.1 8.3 Overall A* pass rates fell in 2012 and 2013 but rose in 2014. Static in 2015  . Slight reduction in 2016. Slight increase 2017
Female A* Pass Rate 8.2 7.9 7.4 7.9 7.8 7.7 7.8 Female A* pass rates fell in 2012 and 2013;   rose in 2014; fell in 2015 and 2016. Female  A* pass rate lower than Male A* pass rate  in 2012 for first time since A*Grade introduced. This continued in 2013 and 2014 and 2015 and 2016 and 2017
Male A* Pass Rate 8.2 8.0 7.9 8.5 8.7 8.5 8.6 Male A* pass rates fell in 2012 and 2013  and rose in 2014 and 2015; fell in 2016. Male A* pass rate higher  in 2012 for first time since A*Grade introduced. This continued in 2013 and 2014 and 2015 and 2016 and 2017
Overall A Pass Rate 18.8 18.7 18.7 17.8 17.7 17.7 18.0 .Slight decline in Overall A pass rate in 2012 and a larger decline in 2014.Slight decline in 2015. Stable between 2015 and 2016
Female A Pass Rate 19.5 19.3 19.3 18.3 18.3 18.3 18.3 Female A Pass rate Higher than Male A Pass rate. Female  A Pass rates fall between 2013 and 2014 and then static in 2015 and 2016
Male A Pass Rate 18.0 17.8 18.0 17.2 17.0 17.2 17,8 Male A Pass rate lower than Female A Pass rate .Male A Pass Rate falls  between 2013 and 2014 and 2014 and 2015 and then increases in 2016
Overall A* + A Pass Rate 27.0 26.6 26.3 26.0 25.9 25.8 26.3 Overall A*+A Pass Rate falls in 2012. 2013 and 2014 and 2015 and 2016. Rises 2017
Female A*+A  Pass Rate  27.7 27.2 26.7 26.2 26.1 26.0 26.1 2011-16 Female A*+A  Pass Rate exceeds Male A*+A pass rate because Male lead in A*pass rate is smaller than Female lead in A Pass  rate  . However gender gap narrowing and in 2017 Male A*+A pass rate exceeds Female A*+A Rate as Male A* lead exceeds female A lead
Male A* + A Pass Rate 26.2 25.8 25.9 25.7 25.7 25.7 26.6  

There are also important gender differences in subject entry at GCE Advanced Level and you can find updated information on Gender and Subject entry here.

3. Further and Higher Education

The following data illustrate that until 1991 Males were more likely than females to embark on undergraduate courses but this gradually changed in the course of the 1990s and the reverse is now the case

es to enrol on undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Male undergraduates are slightly more  likely than female undergraduates to gain First Class degrees but female undergraduates are significantly more likely than male undergraduates to obtain Upper Second Class degrees. 

Table : Students in further and higher education: by type of course and sex1970/71 2008/9 [United Kingdom: Thousands]   















Further Education












































All further education






















Higher Education
























































































All higher education












































[1Home and overseas students attending further education or higher education institutions. See Appendix Part3 Stages of Education.2. Figures for 2006/07 include a small number of higher education students for whom details are not available by level. Source:: Department for Children , Schools and Families, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, Welsh Assembly Government, Scottish Government, Northern Ireland Department for Employment and Learning.] [From Social Trends 2009 and 2011: Crown Copyright]


More Recent Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency  2016/17

Click here for HE  Student Enrolments and  Personal Characteristics 2012/13- 2 016/17 Females continue to be more likely than males to enrol for Higher Education Courses. Some students self- identify as "Other" rather than male or female

Click here for HE Enrolments by Subject Area and Sex. The gender differences in subject choice which occur at Advanced Level continue in Higher Education .


Gender Differences in Degree Results 2011/12- 2014/15

You may click here for information on Gender and Degree Class 20i6/17. Notice that these data are not provided in Percentage terms

These statistics may be summarised as follows

  Ist Class % 2:1 % 2:2% 3rd/Pass%
Male 2011/12 17 46 29 8
Female 2011/12 17 51 26 6.5
Male 2013/14 20.1 47.2 26.2 6.5
Females  213/14 20.0 52.5 22.7 4.8
Males 2014/15 22 47 25 6
Females 2014/15 22 52 22 5


Click here for a BBC summary of recent detailed research on Gender and Higher Education

Click here for a link to the relevant research

Click here for a report from HEP1 on the underachievement of young men in higher education and here for Guardian coverage of this report . New links added May 2016

Girls have traditionally outperformed  boys especially in English, Foreign Languages and Humanities subjects  and relative female examination results have increased in these subjects since the late 1980s while  female examination pass rates in Science subjects and Mathematics have also improved significantly. It is  important to note that, prior to the introduction of the National Curriculum in 1988 , Sciences were optional subjects at 16+ level and especially Physics and Chemistry were studied disproportionately by boys and Biology disproportionately by girls. Since the Sciences are now compulsory subjects under the terms of the National Curriculum , they are studied equally by boys and girls, and girls have caught up and in some years overtaken boys in Science examinations and narrowed the gap  in GCSE Maths and Science examinations and this combined with their traditionally higher examination pass rates in English, Foreign Languages and Humanities subjects explains why they are now significantly more likely than boys to gain 5 or more A*-C GCSE pass grades.  {Boys and girls are about equally likely to study "Sciences" at GCSE Level and although boys have traditionally been more likely than girls to study Single Science examinations by 2017 girls were slightly more likely than boys to study GCSE Biology and Chemistry while  boys remained slightly more likely than girls to study GCSE Physics.]

In outlining some of the explanations for relative female educational improvement since the 1980s we may distinguish between biologically based explanations and sociologically based explanations.

  1. Biologically Based Arguments
  1. by the ages of say 13-14, girls are on average more sensible;
  2. they have greater powers of concentration;
  3. they can organise coursework tasks more efficiently.
  4. It has been suggested also that even young female infants can be shown to have superior language skills relative to young male infants and that these differences in language capabilities may well be innate.

         However sociologists argue that even if these biological factors provide part of the explanation for gender differences in educational achievement, they cannot provide the entire explanation because:

  2. Sociologically Based Explanations

Sociologists have argued that gender differences in educational achievement can be explained by a wide range of social factors. They also often distinguish between factors which are External and Internal to the organisation of the education system while recognising that in some cases these external and internal factors may be interconnected in various ways

External Factors 

  1. In the first half of the 20th Century many women left employment following marriage and took on the roles of full-time housewives and mothers and, in so doing provided very significant role models for their own daughters who were consequently likely to see their futures also as full time housewives and mothers rather than in terms of gaining a better education and pursuing rewarding employment opportunities which at this time were in any case rarely available to women.
  2. However the second half of the 20th Century saw significant changes in the occupational structure occurring as a result of the growth of industries based upon light assembly work, the Welfare State and the financial and commercial sectors of the economy which created more employment opportunities for  women, mainly in light assembly work, retailing and secretarial work  but also to some extent in some professional occupations such as teaching , nursing and social work and to a lesser extent in finance and in law..
  3. Many married couples recognised   quickly that they could improve their family living standards very significantly if married women returned to work even while their children were still  young .
  4. The increased availability of labour saving goods combined with some increased willingness of some husbands to help with  housework and childcare  and the increased opportunities for adult social interaction at work all made returning to employment an attractive option for many married women. Consequently these working mothers were now providing much different role models for their daughters to follow.
  5. The number of lone parent families has increased and since many lone parents combine caring for children with paid employment this may encourage daughters to focus more on their education as a means of improving their future employment prospects. Also , very unfortunately, some lone parents may for a variety of reasons be unable to find paid employment which could well lead to financial hardship. Their daughters may come to realise that personal relationships may sometimes be precarious and that a good education followed by secure employment may help them to a better life.
  6. Parents have increasingly recognised that a wider variety of employment opportunities are becoming available and have become more  likely to encourage their daughters to think in terms of securing the good educational necessary to access such careers. Girls and boys in all social classes express more interest in Further and Higher Education although it may be that this is less the case in some sections of the working class and unfortunately even when working class parents wish to support their children's educational progress they may [ in Bourdieu's terminology] lack the economic, social and cultural capital necessary to provide truly effective support.
  7. Sociologists had often noted that a large proportion of infant and primary school teachers were women and that this may have reinforced the traditional view that women were especially suited for childcare rather than "real work" since this early years teaching was perceived as simply an extension of the mothering role. However by the 1980s it began to be argued that because young children were being taught to read mainly by women [their mothers and/or female teachers], this strengthened the children's' perception that reading was mainly a female rather than a male activity which is now believed to help to explain the relatively rapid linguistic development of girls. Click here for recent research on gender, teacher expectations and pupils' self-images [Partly external reference to parents combined with a partly internal reference to teachers


1.In the first half of the 20th Century many married women were full-time housewives. How may this fact have affected female attitudes to education?

2 What factors encouraged an increasing proportion of married women to remain in employment after marriage in the second half of the 20th Century?.

3 How may the increased employment of married women  have affected their daughters' attitudes to education?

4.Why might reading be perceived by some children as a female rather than a male activity? Is this more likely to be the case among working class children than among middle and upper class children?

  1. Feminist political activity had helped to persuade governments to introduce the Equal Pay act of 1970 and the Sex discrimination Act of 1975 which outlawed both the payment of unequal wages to males and females for equal work and various forms of discrimination in the workplace and in the education system. These Acts have been insufficient to remove all gender discrimination but they have contributed to a climate in which female employment opportunities could improve. which increased female career aspirations while schools themselves developed specific Equal Opportunities provisions designed to remove discrimination on the basis of disability, ethnicity, gender and sexuality..[Partly external reference to the labour market and partly internal reference to schools]
  2. Female employment opportunities increased further from the 1970s onwards as a result of the growth of the Service Sector of the economy  which resulted in the growth of employment opportunities considered suitable for women. Much of the new service sector employment involved relatively low pay but some new well paid professional jobs were created and their increased availability may have provided a stimulus for more female students to prioritise education.
  3. By the 1980s Feminist ideas became increasingly influential both  in the wider society and within the education system [Partly external and partly internal] Even if few teenage girls in the 1980s would have actively described themselves as feminists, it is likely that they were influenced increasingly by feminist ideas. particularly those of the liberal feminist variety, which seemed to confirm many of their own experiences of life. For example
    1. these girls may have seen that their mothers had been denied good employment opportunities partly because of their limited education;
    2. they saw that their full-time employed mothers were still forced to shoulder a disproportionate share of housework and childcare responsibilities and that they themselves were often forced to help around the house more than their brothers;
    3. they saw that actual marital relationships were not heavily based upon romantic love;
    4. that the housewife-mother role might offer only limited personal fulfilment;
    5. and they saw that marriages were increasingly likely to end in divorce which meant that divorced women might be forced to support themselves and their children financially in later life  and that better educational qualifications would enable them to do so.

Feminists argued that women were entitled to equal rights in education, in the family and in employment and as a result more female students came to think that if they were likely to spend more time in paid employment, they might prefer an interesting, well paid career as an alternative to marriage, or to pursue a career and marry a little later or that they might wish to return to their career after marriage or that a career would provide them with financial security if their marriage should increase in divorce which was statistically increasingly likely.  Sue Sharpe’s repetition in 1994]  of her 1970s research  showed that in the 1990s, female school students were now attaching much more significance to their careers and as a result giving  increasing priority to their education.


1.      How may female attitudes to education have been affected by the implementation of the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act?

2.      How might female attitudes to education have been affected by the growth of the Service Sector of the economy?

3.      Find out about the differences between liberal, radical and Marxist feminism. How do attitudes to education differ among these different types of feminists?  The answers to this question would require another document and you should discuss it with your teachers.

4.      How might female attitudes to education have been affected by their increased recognition of the possible  instability of married life?


Internal Factors

Feminists of the 1960s to the 1980s had undertaken  several detailed   studies [such as those mentioned  in the previous section of this document] which had pointed to the educational disadvantages suffered by female students and as a result education policies were gradually adopted which could be expected to improve female educational prospects at least too some extent.

  • Teacher Training courses and school inspections have given increasing attention to gender equality issues and gender biases textbooks and other resources may have gradually improved although even in 2018 concerns have recently been expressed that some gender biases continue to exist.
  • Careers Education advisers have increasingly emphasised that a wider variety of careers are becoming available to women and this may have encouraged more girls to prioritise their education.
  • The National Curriculum made Sciences compulsory for all at GCSE level which increased the proportion of females taking these subjects.
  • The initiatives of organisations such as GIST [Girls into Science and Technology] and WISE [Women into Science and Engineering] may have helped to make the sciences more attractive to females although the effectiveness of these initiatives should not be overstated. In the GIST programme[1979-1983] researchers worked  in 10 co-educational comprehensive schools to try to raise teacher awareness of equal opportunities issues and to encourage more girls to opt for Sciences at GCE and CSE levels. The final report concluded that the initiative had improved girls' attitudes to Science and Technology only  slightly ; that girls' enrolments in GCE and CSE Science increased only slightly; and that  the teachers , although sympathetic to the programme said that they had not modified their teaching practices substantially as a result. However the GIST initiative could be regarded as an early pilot programme which has encouraged many subsequent equal opportunities initiatives.  The WISE programme was set up as a national initiative by the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Engineering Council and was designed to raise awareness of the need for more female scientists and technologists and to emphasise the attractiveness for girls, young women and older women seeking to retrain of  careers in Science and Technology. WISE is still in operation and its website points out that whereas about 20 years ago only 4% of Engineering undergraduates were women the figure for 2009 was 13%. Obviously WISE itself may well have contributed to this increase at least to some extent.  
  • The introduction of the GCSE resulted also in the introduction of course work as a means of assessment alongside examinations and a coursework element was soon introduced also into Advanced Level courses.
  • Some explained this relatively rapid improvement in girls' educational achievements once the GCSE had been introduced mainly in terms of girls' allegedly superior organisational skills which enabled them to complete the newly introduced coursework tasks more effectively. Others have suggested that the reality is much more complex : it could be argued, for example, that coursework assignments test especially depth of understanding as well as organisational skills and that in any case girls' relative educational improvement must be explained by a wide ranging combination of factors operative inside and outside of the schools rather than solely by changes to the system of assessment at GCSE level. Furthermore the fact that relative improvements in female educational achievements have been occurring in many countries suggests that they cannot be explained in the UK solely by the introduction of coursework in GCSE subjects.
  • A recent [June 2009] report did emphasise the view that gender differences in educational achievement were to a considerable extent explained by the nature of GCSE assessment methods. Click here for the Observer coverage of this report. It should be noted , however, that the report quickly attracted several criticisms.
  • New Links March 2013; Click here for BBC report of  suggestions that female students' examination results  may suffer as a result of new system of GCSE assessment and here for a clear, concise criticism of this view.

  • Also as schools were assessed and located in published league tables on the basis of school examination performance it made no sense for them to neglect the factors restricting girls' educational performance [although some have argued that the "excessive attention" given to the difficulties of girls results in a neglect of the difficulties of boys.
  • As it has increasingly been recognised that girls are likely to out -perform boys at GCSE level it may well be that girls have been more likely to be positively labelled than boys leading to the relative improvement of girls' educational performance. However it has also been suggested, for example by Louise Archer , that it even by 2005 it was still middle class white boys who were most likely to be perceived by teachers as 2Ideal pupils.2 This is an issue that you might like to discuss further with your teachers.


8.      How may recent educational changes have encouraged female educational aspirations?

The combined effects of the above factors mean that nowadays  many  more women are in paid employment in general and that a growing minority of well educated women are employed in a widening range of interesting well paid careers. These successful   women must surely provide positive role models for girls whose interest in education has in any case increased and as their rate of progress increases successful girls may experience positive labelling from teachers which will enhance their prospects still further.


Boys, Girls and Achievement :Addressing the Classroom Issues : Becky Francis[2000]

[See also Reassessing Gender and Achievement: Questioning contemporary key debates: Becky Francis and Christine Skelton 2005 for more information on all aspects of the relationships between Gender and Educational Achievement]

The findings of  Becky Francis  in this  study   encapsulate many of the above points . She argue that in so far as girls are improving more rapidly than boys , this is to be explained  primarily in terms of the processes affecting the social construction of femininity and masculinity. In relation to the social construction of femininity, she argues that many girls of middle school and secondary school age aim to construct feminine identities which emphasise the importance of maturity and a relatively quiet and orderly approach to school life. Girls certainly do take considerable interest in their appearance and may choose to rebel quietly by talking at the back of the class or feigning lack of interest but , according to Becky Francis, not in a way which will detract from their school studies. Their femininity is constructed in such a way that if they choose to behave sensibly and work hard this, if anything, adds to their femininity.

No evidence is found to the effect that girls nowadays worry that evidence of intelligence and hard work may render them unattractive to boys  and attitudes within female friendship groups are likely to strengthen rather than undermine girls' commitment to their school work. although ,admittedly , however, girls do not wish to be perceived as "nerds", interested in school work and nothing else. Increasingly also  by comparison , say with the girls interviewed by Sue Sharpe in the first edition of "Just Like a Girl" teenage girls nowadays have gradually come to prioritise the importance of gaining good academic qualifications as a means of improving their own career prospects rather than assuming that their future employment is likely to be of secondary importance by comparison with their likely future roles as housewives and mothers.

Thus the girls in Becky Francis sample express interest in a relatively wide variety of careers; are relatively unlikely to favour stereotypical female careers such as nurse, clerical worker or air hostess ; are quite likely to express interest in careers usually associated with men and very likely to express interest in careers for which further education, higher education and a degree will be necessary. However broadly traditional patterns of career choice do remain in that the girls are more likely to choose careers associated with the Humanities or the caring professions than with Science, Mathematics or Engineering. Also very importantly the girls believe strongly that they are likely to face gender discrimination in employment and Becky Francis sees this as a major reason why girls are increasingly keen to work hard to achieve good educational qualifications.

This is  clearly a very useful study which rightly focuses heavily on the social constructions  of masculinity and femininity as key influences on male and female educational achievement. Becky Francis presents a very positive description of secondary school girls' femininity which helps them in several ways to make educational progress. However I am sure that she would recognise that not all female students approach school in such a positive way and that many female students [mainly working class female students] adopt their own forms of anti-school pupil which undermine  their educational prospects  in much the same way as "laddish" behaviour undermines the educational prospects of many mainly working class male students.

Very importantly in some of her subsequent Professor Francis has given considerable attention to the gender identities of high achieving pupils and noted that in some cases it might prove difficult for high achieving pupils to attain social acceptability among their fellow students. Click here for a brief analysis of the Gender Identities of High Achieving Pupils by Professor Becky Francis. This is a very interesting item which might provoke considerable class discussion.

Also Click here for  a summary of  a recent [2009] report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission which suggests that  Becky Francis' research may perhaps understate the extent of ongoing significant gender differences in perceived career prospects  and calls for better advice on subject choice and career choice. 

  • Activity
  1. Explain the meaning of the following terms : a. the social construction of femininity; b. the social construction of masculinity.
  2. How does Becky Francis use the social construction of femininity to explain relative female educational improvement?
  3. How might the social construction of masculinity be used to explain relative male educational underachievement?
  4. In which ways might some boys construct a form of masculinity which promotes their educational success? Which boys are most likely to do this?
  5. In which ways might some girls construct a form of femininity which restricts their educational success? Which girls are most likely to do this ?
  •  The Relative Improvement of Female Educational Achievement: A Checklist
  1. Change in the occupational structure.
  2. The increased employment of married women since 1945 and their significance as role models.
  3. Changes in socialisation within families
  4. Uncertainty around the likelihood or permanence of future marriage .
  5. Female infant and primary school teachers as female role models.
  6. The Equal Pay Act[1970] and the Sex Discrimination Act [1975]
  7. The gradual influence of feminist ideas throughout society.
  8. Changes in the social construction of femininity.
  9. Changing perceptions of family, career and education
  10. Feminist criticisms of the wider society and of the education system and feminist proposals for change
  11. Changes within the formal educational system: National Curriculum, GCSE, Course Work, Teaching Materials and Methods, GIST and WISE, Careers Advice, League Tables.
  12. Increased emphasis on equality of opportunity in political discourse and greater emphasis within schools on Equal Opportunities issues.
  13. Positive labelling of female students with possibly negative consequences for boys
  14. The increased visibility of positive female role models.
  15. Recognition that not all female students are educationally successful and consideration of the reasons for female underachievement in education.

Rremember that not all girls are successful in education and that it is important to analyse interrelationships between gender, social class, ethnicity and educational achievement. Working class girls attainment levels are on average  considerably lower than the attainment levels of middle class because working class girls may experience  a range of material disadvantages and also because they may be more likely to engage in the kinds of anti-school behaviour which have more usually been associated with working class boys and because they may be negatively labelled in school.  Click here for some information on Lads and Ladettes in School [Dr. Carolyn Jackson 2006] which addresses this phenomenon. Also click here for a brief video clip.

In addition it is becoming clear that many girls may be subject to totally unacceptable levels of sexist bullying in schools and this could be a significant factor which, despite all of the positive developments mentioned above, may be undermining girls' prospects significantly. Click here for an item from the Revise Sociology site which  provides some information on some of the different types of Feminism and addresses the issue of sexist bullying.

You may  Click here for an article from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation Site on the difficulties which some  mainly working class girls continue to face within the UK education system

Part Three: Explaining the Slower Rate of Improvement in Male Educational Achievement.

We have seen that many reasons have been suggested for the improved educational achievements of female students at all levels of the UK education system. It is true also that male educational achievements are improving but they are simply improving at a slower rate than female achievements . What factors might restrict the rate of educational improvement of male students?

In the documents  on Social Class and Educational Achievement it was shown that even 30 or 40 years ago many working class boys were likely to develop anti-school subcultures as a general aspect of working class culture [as, for example, in the Willis study] or in response to streaming within the schools [as, for example, in the Hargreaves study] or as a result of both working class cultural factors and school organisational factors [as ,for example,  in Phil Brown's study]. It may be that these working class male anti-school subcultures help to explain relative male working class underachievement but before we consider such arguments in more detail we must note also that female students outperform male students at GCSE level in all social classes which means that we also need an explanation for relative male middle class underachievement . You may click here and then scroll to page 45 for DCFS [now DFE] data on the relationships between gender, social class and GCSE attainment in 2004. I have not been able to find more recent data but one would think that such patterns continue to exist. [New link added August 2012]

Let us first consider some of the arguments which focus primarily on relative male working class underachievement.

  1.   It was suggested that, for some working class boys , education was essentially an irrelevance because they hoped in any case to find the kind of physically demanding, unskilled manual work which would confirm their masculinity but which required few educational qualifications. Contrastingly  academic study and non-manual employment were associated with femininity and therefore dismissed as unsuitable in every  respect.
  2. Also within the anti-school subcultures, male pupils gained status among their peers not through respect for school rules and hard academic work but through disruptive behaviour of various kinds which ultimately would restrict their own academic progress.
  3. It must be recognised that the relative decline of manufacturing industry since the 1980s has resulted in a decline in both unskilled and skilled manual work yet a significant minority of working class boys may still hope   for the kind of physically demanding unskilled work which is often no longer available  and these boys may still be trying to gain status with their peers via disruptive, "laddish", "macho" anti-school behaviour.
  4. These boys may be especially likely to misbehave in class and serious misbehaviour may mean that they are excluded temporarily from class or even permanently from school. Boys are in fact about 5 times more likely than girls to be permanently excluded from school.
  5. It has been argued that some boys are  therefore experiencing a crisis of masculinity in that they have as yet been unable to adapt their behaviour in school to the changing economic circumstances which means that they are increasingly likely to face limited job prospects and unemployment if they fail to adopt a more positive attitude to school work and gaining educational qualifications.
  6. However even in the 1970s only a minority of working class boys rejected the education system outright in this way while most conformed at least to some extent in the hope of picking up useful practical skills and reasonable school references which would help them in their search for employment. Nowadays increasing numbers of working class boys aim to enrol on Higher Education courses and many more will surely have recognised the increased importance of academic qualifications  for example in Computing as a means of securing skilled non- manual employment in service industries and this recognition of the changes in the facts of economic life may encourage these boys to take their education more seriously. That is: these boys will have constructed a different form of masculinity which could be confirmed not by rejection of school but academic success and by demonstrable mastery of new information technologies. [ In his 1990s studies  of different social constructions of working class masculinity  Mac An Ghaill distinguishes in this respect  between "macho lads" [akin to Willis' "lads"] ," academic achievers" and "new enterprisers"  suggesting that only a declining minority of male working class pupils now see themselves as "macho lads."
  7. Nevertheless it is likely that even some of these boys will also be drawn into a "laddish" anti-school culture as a means of maintaining their status among their friends.
  8. Remember , however, that we have also to explain relative male middle class underachievement and to assess whether middle class males are more likely than middle class females to be drawn into "middle class variants" of  anti-school culture. Once again you may click here and then scroll to page 45 for DCFS [now DFE] data on the relationships between gender, social class and GCSE attainment in 2004. I have not been able to find more recent data but one would think that such patterns continue to exist. [New link added August 2012]
  9. Additionally if boys are to catch up girls at GCSE level, it will be especially important for them to improve their grades in English, Foreign Languages and Humanities where the performance gap is largest. Yet there is evidence that girls have  been more heavily socialised from an early age by parents and teachers to read and it may also be seen as a more feminine trait to express opinions on the kinds of personal issues which arise in Arts and Humanities subjects  all of which puts some boys at a disadvantage in these subjects.
  10. It has been argued even fairly recently  that teachers have failed to appreciate the educational disadvantages that boys actually face. so that they may assume incorrectly that "laddish" behaviour is relatively harmless and make few attempts to correct it.
  11. It  may be argued also that the kind of negative labelling investigated in earlier units may apply nowadays especially to many mainly working class boys who may continue to be labelled by teachers as lacking in ability and/or interest and that teachers' ongoing emphasis on relative failure[ not the relatively slow progress] of boys  may by now be convincing some boys that they are actually incapable of progress.
  12. There may be some truth in the two previous  points   but it is also the case that, nowadays, teachers spend huge amounts of time on the investigation of boys' relative underachievement which may undermine the notions that they fail to take "laddish" behaviour seriously  and that negative labelling is still widespread. However there are also recent studies which suggest that negative labelling of both male and female working class students is still widespread as was shown in previous documents on social class differences in educational achievement.
  13. There are also arguments that insufficient attention has been given to the possibilities that boys and girls learn in different ways and may therefore need different types of teaching.

Click here for a recent relevant BBC item  suggesting the possibility that primary school teaching strategies should be reconsidered so as to improve boys' educational prospects.



1. Are male examination results getting worse?

2 .Whose average examination results are better: middle class males' or working class females'?

3.What do you understand by the term "laddish, macho, anti-school culture"?

4.How may changes in the occupational structure have affected male attitudes to education?

5.How would you explain the facts that although male and female GCSE pass rates  in Maths and Sciences are very similar, females out-perform males very considerably in English at GCSE level?

6. In your opinion , do teachers take "laddish" behaviour seriously enough?


  • Part  Four: Appendix:  Backlash Arguments, Moral Panics and the Underclass

In her study "Backlash: The Undeclared War against Women [1992] Susan Faludi argued that in the USA women were increasingly told especially in the more conservative sections of the mass media that they had now achieved economic equality with men  but that this economic progress had come at considerable cost to themselves in that career women in their mid 30s were allegedly prone to infertility; that unmarried and/or childless women were especially prone to depression and that the ultimate cause of these difficulties was FEMINISM. Faludi rejected such arguments and argued very strongly that male -female employment opportunities and earnings differences were still considerable and that if, anything, fulltime housewives were more likely than employed women to be unhealthy.

In the UK some sociologists argued that in some sections of the mass media the evidence of relative female educational improvement was presented in  away  which suggested that it had occurred because teachers[ perhaps influenced by feminism] had focussed excessively on the educational needs of female students to the detriment of males students who had consequently fallen behind . These arguments too could be interpreted as to some extent examples of "backlash" arguments against alleged excessive influence of feminism within the teaching profession and calling for educational changes which would effectively address the educational needs of boys.

Not all sociologists agree that these backlash arguments have gained much prominence in the UK and in any case they have been widely criticised on the grounds that other explanations of relative female improvement [ as listed above] are more powerful and that it is unrealistic to assume that in an education system increasingly driven by examination results and league table positions teachers would prioritise the education of girls rather than boys which would also fly in the face of natural justice.

The concept of a "moral panic" derives from the Sociology of Crime and Deviance and has been defined by Stan Cohen in his study of Mods and Rockers entitled "Folk Devils and Moral Panics". as follows:

Societies appear to be subject, every now and then, to periods of moral panic. A condition, episode, person or group emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests: its nature is presented in a stylised and stereotypical fashion by the mass media; the moral barricades are manned by editors, bishops, politicians and other right thinking people; socially accredited experts pronounce their diagnoses and solutions; ways of coping are evolved or (more often) resorted to; the condition then disappears, submerges or deteriorates and becomes more visible. Sometimes the object of the panic is quite novel and at other times it is something which has been in existence long enough, but suddenly appears in the limelight. Sometimes the panic is passed over and is forgotten except in folklore and collective memory; at other times it has more serious and long lasting repercussions and might produce such changes as those in legal or social policy or even in the way society conceives itself.

Some complex issues are involved in this definition but essentially the definition suggests that dominant economic and social groups and their representatives in the economic and political systems in the mass media have a vested interest in the continuation of the current economic and political system which after all safeguards their relative economic privilege and that they will therefore initiate  and perpetuate critical campaigns against "problem groups" of "folk devils" whose existence appears to pose a challenge to the status quo. The behaviour of such groups is stigmatised as anti-social and in need of correction if social order is to be maintained although from a more critical perspective it can be argued that it is the nature of the social order itself which promotes the development of "problem groups" of "folk devils."

Female relative educational improvement has been linked also with the development of a "moral panic" surrounding the alleged development of a so-called UK underclass . It is usual to distinguish between cultural and structural versions of the underclass theory. The cultural version is associated especially with the American New Right theorist Charles  Murray who argues that excessive growth of welfare state spending has created a culture of dependency among a new underclass comprising especially single mothers and uneducated , unskilled, poorly paid and often unemployed young men for whom their culture of dependency upon the welfare state has destroyed their capacity to climb out of poverty through their own efforts. The solution, for Murray, is  the restriction of welfare state benefits as a means of reactivating personal responsibility and initiative.

In structural versions of the underclass theory [such as those of William Julius Wilson] it is the structural inequalities associated with national and international capitalism rather than the cultural characteristics of the poor which explain the existence of the underclass. Capitalism is seen as an inevitable exploitative economic system generating both economic inequality and poverty and in recent years the relocation of manufacturing industry from the "advanced" capitalist economies to the "Third World" has been a major cause of the high levels of unemployment which has in turn resulted in increased economic inequality and poverty. A poor underclass exists not because its members are fatalistic, feckless and work shy but because the manufacturing jobs on which they have traditionally depended have been relocated to the "Third World" . However  unemployment and poverty can themselves contribute to further despondency among the unemployed and the poor which suggests that the development of the underclass is explicable by structural factors but that its continuation occurs partly as  a result of  induced cultural despondency.

In both types of theory it is argued that the slow rate of male educational improvement is a factor which contributes to  the growth of  the underclass as uneducated young men are increasingly unable to find work in an increasingly technologically based economy. However Charles Murray focussed originally on the USA and claimed that a major factor driving the growth of the underclass was the growth of single motherhood which according to him was encouraged by overgenerous welfare benefits so that it is not only the slow rate of male educational improvement which drives the growth of the underclass.

In any case some sociologists reject all theories of the underclass arguing instead that millions of working class people are continually moving in and out of poverty as a result of chance changes in their economic circumstances so that there is no significant barrier between the underclass and the rest of the working class and also that there are no significant differences in attitudes to work between the poor and the rest of society in that the vast majority of poor people would wish to escape poverty via employment rather than to suffer poverty via reliance on state benefits which despite Murray's opinions are LOW rather than generous.

[You should consult your textbooks for further information on MORAL PANICS and THEORIES OF THE UNDERCLASS.]

Addition August 2016

For several years there has been an increasing focus on the relative educational achievement of specifically white working class boys and I have provided some information on this aspect of the topic here and here in my document on "Race" , Ethnicity and Educational attainment.



Concluding Comment

In 1994 the BBC transmitted an edition of Panorama entitled "The Future is Female" describing  the early stages of increasing relative female educational achievement. On August 10th 2009 I watched BBC Two' s "The Trouble with Girls: 3 Girls and 3 Pregnancies." which investigated the lives of three 15-16 year old working class girls in Rochdale. Clearly these were not typical working class girls.: they truanted regularly; drank alcohol excessively; used soft and hard drugs and could be violent and racist. Two of the girls had pinned their hopes on an Army career  but were told in  a preliminary interview that they could not in any case be accepted on health grounds. Two of the girls had become pregnant and the third was to become pregnant in the next episode.

In April 2018 I watched "Love and Drugs on the Streets: Girls sleeping rough ". Apparently life does not always revolve around Russell  Group University  Facilitating Subjects.

More Females are nowadays on average more successful at all levels of the education system but not all females are educationally successful and not all females share similar futures. The same conclusions apply to males.


Concluding Assignment

Reread the sections of the document on the relative improvement of female students and the slower rates of improvement of male students . Then Click here, scroll down to the Education podcasts and watch podcasts 4 and 5

Then plan the following essay: Outline and explain the external factors and internal factors affecting gender differences in educational achievement. To what extent do internal and external factors overlap? 




I found the following links helpful in writing earlier versions of this document and have retained them for my own use but  GCE Advanced Level Sociology students need not necessarily consult them, I think.

  • Click here for the DCSF Research paper" Gender and Education: The Evidence on Pupils in England:"  Published 18th July 2007This paper provides very detailed statistical information on all aspects of the relationships between gender and educational achievement. 
  • Click here for Gender and Education: Myth busters Addressing Gender and Achievement: Myths and Realities [DCSF [now DFE ] publication 2009 
  • Click here   for a summary of a recent very technical paper on Gender and Educational achievement . A link to the full paper appears within the summary.
  • For earlier data  click here for the  DFE statistics relating to  2013/2014 GCSE results and you may  click here for revised  DFE statistics relating to  2010/2011GCSE results which provides data going back to 2006/7.