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A-level gender gap narrows as record numbers receive university offers

Published 18/08/2016

Pupils sitting maths A-level exam.
Pupils sitting maths A-level exam.

Record numbers of students have been offered university places, as the latest A-level results show the gap between boys and girls achieving the top grades has narrowed for the first time in five years.

The overall pass rate - those achieving grades A* to E - remained at 98.1%, w hile the proportion of A* and A grades was 25.8% - down by 0.1 percentage point on last year.

The results came as early figures from admissions body Ucas showed a record number of almost 424,000 A-level students placed in UK higher education as of midnight - up 3% on last year - where many tuition fees work out at £9,000 a year.

The increase in admissions includes a rise of 11% in the number of EU students placed at university - the highest number recorded.

Ucas head Mary Curnock Cook said: " The UK has some of the best universities in the world so it doesn't surprise me that the Brexit vote doesn't seem to have put EU students off studying here.

"Acceptances from EU students are 11% up on last year. There's no evidence of a trend change for those who applied either before or after the referendum."

The figures show UK 18-year-olds from the least advantaged backgrounds are 7% more likely to be placed than last year, although the most advantaged young people are still two and a half times more likely to be accepted into higher education.

Ms Curnock Cook said the increase could be traced back to improvements in GCSEs and universities' commitment to attracting pupils from diverse backgrounds.

According to the A-level results, b oys continue to out-perform girls - with 8.5% of male entries getting A*, compared with 7.7% for female - although this was down from 8.7% and 7.8% respectively, and meant the gap between the two sexes was cut to 0.8 percentage points from 0.9.

Including A grades, girls continue to have the edge over their male counterparts - with 25.9% compared with 25.8%.

M athematics remains the most popular subject, accounting for 11% of entries, followed by English (10.1%) and biology (7.5%).

The decline in students taking modern foreign languages continued, the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) data showed, although there was an increase in students receiving the top grades in those subjects.

The percentage of students gaining an A* in French rose by 0.7% compared with last year, while German saw a 1.3% increase, and Spanish rose by 0.3%.

Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: "If you look at the initial teacher training (ITT) entry figures, they dropped for the last three years consecutively.

"Of course if you're getting (fewer) languages teachers, you're not going to be able to get the GCSE going, let alone leading into A-levels. Fewer A-levels, fewer people doing degrees, fewer people into ITT."

The number of exams taken has declined by 1.7%, from 850,749 last year to 836,705.

The results follow changes in a decoupling of AS-levels and A-levels.

JCQ director-general Michael Turner said: "Overall, outcomes are relatively unchanged.

"However, the shift in entry patterns and the introduction of new specifications in reformed subjects could lead to a greater volatility in year-on-year results in some schools and colleges than is experienced in a typical year."

Andrew Hall, chief executive of AQA, said the drop in students getting A*s was "very, very small". He said the 0.1% difference represented 836 grades, which, in his view, was not "statistically significant".

"It's a fairly clear and stable set of results. We don't really see any great surprises," he said. "There are no policy changes that affect A-level results."

Maths continued to be dominated by boys, with almost 20,000 more boys than girls taking the exam.

However, Sharon Hague, senior vice president of the Pearson examinations body, said girls were outperforming boys in economics.

Mr Hall said the difference between the genders in maths could be down to subjects where students feel more comfortable.

He said: "We do make sure when we design our exams that they are gender-neutral."

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