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This year 837 students achieved 9s in seven or more subjects, a slight increase on last year. Photograph: PA

GCSE results: girls fare better than boys under more rigorous courses

More than 25% of entries by girls got top grade of A, or 7, compared with 18.6% for boys

WT24 Desk

The introduction of more rigorous GCSE courses in England and elsewhere in the UK appears to have benefited girls more than boys, including in subjects such as physics and maths, where girls have narrowed the gap in grades, The Guardian reports.

More than one in four exam entries by girls received top grades of A, or 7, and above in this summer’s exams in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, an improvement of half a percentage point to 25.3% compared with last year, while just 18.6% of entries by boys achieved the same grades.

In England girls won the majority of the coveted top grade of 9, with 5.2% of female entries gaining the grade that replaced the previous A* grade, compared with 3.7% of boys and a combined rate of 4.5%. Just below that, 13.1% of girls gained a level 8, compared with 9.4% of boys.

This year 837 students achieved 9s in seven or more subjects, a slight increase on last year, when just five students achieved 9s in 12 subjects.

In maths, the largest single subject, there was a substantial closing of the gap between boys and girls at age 16. While the proportion of boys obtaining top grades nudged up slightly to 20.6%, the proportion of girls getting A/7 or above leapt by nearly a percentage point, from 19% last year to 19.9%, more than halving the difference between the two groups.

In physics – a subject traditionally dominated by boys – girls made large strides in eliminating the gap in grades, which is close to disappearing at grades C, or 4, and above. In the top grades the proportion of girls jumped from 40% to 42.1%, driving a strong improvement overall, while the proportion of boys rose by just 0.3 percentage points to 46.1%.

The improved results come after last week’s A-level results revealed that more girls than boys entered science subjects for the first time, the culmination of decades of effort to increase the involvement of women in science, maths and technology (Stem) subjects.

Derek Richardson of Pearson, which owns the Edexcel examination board, said: “We know that young people are increasingly concerned about the world around them and want to make a difference. The ‘Attenborough effect’ is fuelling an interest in science, and young people are focusing their studies towards the world of work where there’s an increasing demand for Stem careers.”

The figures released by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) showed a significant increase in the number of girls taking computing, up 14%. Girls are still heavily outnumbered by boys, making up less than a quarter of the total entries, but they continue to outperform their male peers at the subject with just under 25% getting A/7 compared with 21% of boys.Advertisement

Girls at age 16 also improved their lead over boys in biology, engineering, classical subjects, French and German.

The UK-wide results showed that for 16-year-olds there were improved results in the proportion gaining C/4 grades, and a jump in those attaining A/7 grades and above. The proportion gaining the top grades went up to 21.9%, an increase of 0.4 percentage points, while the proportion with C/4 was 69.9%, up from 69.3%.

It is the third year of results for the new-style GCSE exams in England, which have more complex content, a greater reliance on final exam results and replace the previous A* to G grades with a scale running from 9 to 1.

Under the grading system, a 4 is equivalent to a C, while the former top grades of A* and A are split into 9, 8 and 7.

The new GCSEs have been criticised in recent days by headteachers, teaching unions and the Girlguiding movement for increasing levels of stress among pupils, and for being too demanding for many pupils, including those with special needs.

Philip Wright, the Joint Council for Qualifications director general, said: “Students and teachers have done a great job during a period of reform as this year’s results have overall been stable, with small increases in pass rates at 7/A and 4/C. We are seeing more entries and better outcomes in the sciences and in computing from both males and females.”

Overall the number of exam entries was helped by a 1.5% rise in the number of 16-year-olds in the population, ending several years of demographic decline. There were more than 5.4m individual full course exam entries this summer, a rise of 50,000 compared with last year.

Entries were also up in a number of subjects, especially humanities subjects included in the government’s favoured English baccalaureate (Ebacc) suite, including geography and history.

There was a 3% increase in modern foreign language entries, which had been in sharp decline for years. French remains the most popular language at GCSE, though Spanish entries went up by 7.5%. German entries dropped again, as did Chinese, where numbers fell from 4,410 to 3,200.

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary in England, said: “The work this government has done to drive up standards means there has never been a better time to go on to further study. We will continue to focus on discipline, outcomes and standards, so whatever path they choose, young people will get a better and better education so they can be full of confidence about their future.”

This year’s results in England complete the sweeping changes instituted in 2013 by Michael Gove. English and maths were the first updated subjects to be examined in 2017. Since then a further 45 subjects have been changed, with 25 examined this year for the first time including design and technology.

The changes in England, along with the new grading structure, have made it increasingly hard to compare results with those in Wales and Northern Ireland, because of the differing content as well as different age groups and resits affecting the results. Northern Ireland has this year awarded a new C* grade, between C and B, to align its grades with those in England.

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