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Girls pull further ahead of boys in three Rs

Figures show a 10 percentage point gap between the sexes in reading, writing and maths.

(Ian West/PA)

Primary school girls are pulling further ahead of boys in the three Rs, official figures show.

Seven in 10 girls reached the expected standard in reading, writing and maths in this year’s national curriculum tests – known as SATs, compared with 60% of boys.

The gender gap of 10 percentage points is up from eight points last year.

The increase has been driven by a widening gap between in reading results, the latest Department for Education (DfE) statistics show.

There is a long-standing gender gap when it comes to reading and writingPaul Whiteman, NAHT

Some 78% of girls reached the expected standard in reading this year, compared with 69% of boys – a gap of nine percentage points. Last year, there was a gap of eight points.

The biggest gulf is still in writing, where girls outperform boys by 12 points.

In maths, girls are ahead by just one point (79% compared with 78%).

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: “We need to be very careful of reading too much into small year-on-year fluctuations in the results of a single cohort in a single subject.

“There is a long-standing gender gap when it comes to reading and writing, which is certainly a concern, and is something teachers are constantly attempting to tackle.”


(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

Press Association Images

(PA Graphics)

School standards minister Nick Gibb said the national results are “testament to the hard work of pupils, parents and teachers”.

Children across England sit reading and maths tests in their final year of primary school, while writing is assessed by teachers.

Figures published in July show that nationally, 65% of pupils met the expected level in each of the three core subjects this year.

The latest breakdown shows that poorer pupils continue to lag far behind their richer peers.

Around half (51%) of disadvantaged pupils – those eligible for free school meals – achieved the expected standard across all three subjects, compared with 71% of more advantaged classmates. This gap is similar to 2018.

The proportion of disadvantaged 11-year-olds reaching the expected levels has remained the same as last year.

Chinese pupils were the highest achieving group in this year’s SATs, with 80% reaching the expected standard in reading, writing and maths.

Some 69% of Asian pupils reached the expected standard in all three areas, along with 66% of those with a mixed heritage.

Just under two-thirds of white pupils (64%) reached this level, along with the same proportion of black pupils.

The figures also show the achievement gap between pupils whose first language is English and those for whom it is a second language has almost closed.

In total, 64% of pupils who speak English as an additional language reached the expected level in all three subjects, just one percentage point fewer than those whose first language is English.

The proportion of pupils reaching the higher standard – above what is expected at this age – has risen by one point to 11%.

Mr Gibb said: “We want all pupils to leave primary school equipped with the knowledge and skills that will help them to be successful in the rest of their education and beyond – that’s why I’m pleased to see an increase in pupils reaching the very highest standards at the end of primary school.”

SATs tests were overhauled in 2016 as part of Government reforms to introduce more rigorous assessments.

The tests are controversial, with some arguing they put too much pressure on children and are not a true picture of a school’s performance.

The Government has said the tests are a measure of school standards and are used to hold primaries to account, rather than measure individual pupils.

A spokeswoman for the More Than A Score campaign, which is calling for changes to school testing, said: “However the DfE dress up their figures, they can’t disguise the fact that 35% of 11-year-olds are starting secondary school having been branded as failures.

“Many may have been put off learning altogether at a critical stage in their education.

“Making primary age children sit a week of tests, under strict exam conditions, is the wrong way to measure pupils’ abilities and the overall performance of schools.”