British Male students continue to fall behind in secondary education

Gijsbert Stoet (


It is common knowledge that boys fall behind in school performance, and UK policy makers have addressed this issue in the past decade. In fact, they seem committed to narrowing gender gaps of any kind. This paper asks whether actual progress has been made in reducing the degree to which boys fall behind, and also whether gender differences in subject preference have changed in the period 2001 to 2013. Using an analysis of British secondary-education exam data and a comparison with data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), it is concluded that no progress has been made: Boys attained fewer top grades in nearly all school subjects. Further, boys and girls continue to choose elective school subjects along traditional interest lines. The problem of boys falling behind is obscured by the finding that grades of all children have risen considerably in this period. However, a comparison of Mathematics and English exam grades with PISA data suggests that this rise is due to grade inflation, not real improvement. The paper closes with recommendations for solutions.

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