Analysis of A-level results indicates ‘systemic bias’ against boys

In a blog published today for HEPI, the former head of Ucas said unexplained differences in A-level results between boys and girls could indicate bias in the grading system against boys

Analysis of this year’s A-level results indicates a “systemic bias” against boys in schools, according to the former head of Ucas.

Mary Curnock Cook, chair of the UPP Foundation Student Futures Commission and Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) trustee, published a blog today for HEPI, looking at gender outcomes in A-level results under this year’s teacher-assessed system.

In the chart below, showing the difference by sex in the elevation of A and A* grades in key subjects between 2019 and 2021, girls outperformed boys across the board. Boys’ results were slightly more elevated in languages, but girls performed significantly better in subjects like mathematics, further mathematics, physics, history and geography.

Chart from HEPI


Cook said: “Whatever your views about grade inflation, and criterion vs norm-referencing, I was concerned to note differences in grade awards between boys and girls.

“Disparities between the sexes create different worries than, for example, gaps between independent and state educated, rich and poor, or North and South – gaps that we may not like, but largely understand. But boys and girls are more or less equally represented in all these groups; they go to the same schools and have the same teachers, so it is harder to pinpoint the causes of any gaps.”

Cook also pointed out that boys were still 20% less likely to be doing A-levels than girls.

Furthermore, the analysis shows very little change in subject preferences, although English continues to decline and STEM entries have become static.

Cook added: “The unexplained differences in teacher-assessed grades between boys and girls raise difficult questions about boys’ underperformance in education more generally. If the possibility of systemic bias against boys can’t be eliminated, it needs to be addressed urgently by policymakers.”

Read the full blog here.

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