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

Figure 3

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

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

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

And in the Telegraph,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Figure 1
Figure 2

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

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

Figure 3

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

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

Now, about that gender pay gap……


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