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 results previously enjoyed by boys at age 16.
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 16-year-old boys achieved the same grades.
In England girls won the majority of the coveted top 9 grade, with 5.2% of female entries gaining the grade that replaced the top tier of 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.
Some 837 students this year 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%.