From education to employment

Why do boys lag behind girls at all ages of education? MPs to Investigate

students stood in corridor

The Education Committee has launched a new inquiry into why boys consistently underperform compared with girls in educational attainment across all age groups and nearly all ethnicities, and examine ways to improve outcomes.

In 2022/23 the attainment gap at GCSE level between girls and boys tightened to its smallest difference for 14 years. But with 24.9% of girls achieving grade 7 or A compared with 19.1% of boys, there was still a significant variation of nearly 6%.

Boys also performed worse at a number of phases and on various measures in the 2022/23 academic year.

According to (DfE) Department for Education data, in the autumn term boys were nearly twice as likely as girls to be suspended, and slightly more than twice as likely to be permanently excluded.

DfE data also shows that by the end of primary schooling, 63% of girls met the expected standard in English reading and writing, compared with 56% of boys. Although, boys did slightly better than girls in maths alone – 73% of boys met the expected standard for maths, compared to 72% of girls.

Among 16-24-year-olds, girls historically had a higher NEET rate (Not in Education, Employment or Training) than boys. But this reversed in 2020, and the difference is now 11.8% for girls and 12.8% for boys.

At A-Level and 16-18, girls do better than boys across all level-3 cohorts, however, the gender gap has decreased in comparison to previous years. This has also meant that men are less likely to progress to higher education – in 2021/22, 54% of women were in higher education by 19, compared to only 40% of men. Men are also more likely to drop out of university courses.

DfE data shows that among children eligible for free school meals, girls outperform boys in all ethnic groups at GCSE, except for amongst children from Gypsy Roma and Irish Traveller backgrounds.

One area where there is no significant difference between boys and girls is in rates of persistent absence from school.

Education Committee Chair Robin Walker MP said:

“Evidence has consistently shown that half the children in this country do worse at school than the other. What divides them is their gender. My Committee wants to find out why it is that boys have historically underperformed compared with girls. Given the Government’s recent focus on lifelong learning, it is also concerning that growing numbers of young men are dropping out of education and becoming NEET.

“There are some state schools where there is little difference between the genders, and others where the discrepancy is more stark. In this inquiry we will look at every set of stakeholders in the system to investigate how methods of teaching or elements of the curriculum could be improved to raise the attainment of boys and keep them engaged with their education, and without bringing down the attainment of girls.”

Inquiry terms of reference

The Committee is inviting written evidence submissions that respond to the terms of reference below. Experts, organisations and individuals can submit online by 17 May 2024.

  • Why do boys consistently underperform in academic assessment compared to girls throughout the primary and secondary phases of education? 
  • What steps are schools currently taking to ensure improve academic outcomes for boys? 
  • What recent assessment has been made of the differences in academic attainment between boys and girls? 
  • What steps should the Department for Education be taking to improve academic outcomes for boys?  
  • How do boys learn best and how can this be integrated into future learning and assessment reforms? 
  • What can be done to improve male pupils’ engagement with the school system?
  • How can the UK improve the progression of boys into higher education? 
  • What can be done to reduce the exclusion and suspension rates of boys from school? 
  • Should different approaches be taken within the classroom to improve male pupil outcomes? 
  • What are the wider social implications of boys’ underperformance and under engagement with education?

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