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Why Are Girls Achieving Higher Grades Than Boys In Exams? Essay

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I have chosen this area of education because it interests me why girls do better than boys in SATs. I found the topic of education the most interesting topic of sociology so far this term.

My title for the coursework is ‘Why are girls achieving higher grades then boys in exams?’ I thought about basing my coursework more around the factor of age, and if it was too early for children to take SATs at the age of seven. However, I decided to do this title, as it interests me how it has changed form being boys outperforming girls from primary school through to university, and gradually girls have caught up and taken over the boys and are now the higher achievers out of the two.

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I plan to gather research, by asking a group of boys and a group of girls, all different ages, and a few questions about maths and English and seeing which group out performs the other. I would use different age groups aswell, to see whether it is different for children of different ages.

I would also like to produce a questionnaire, and hand them out to teachers and some students from different schools, to see what questions they can answer, and then gather up the marks and see whether the difference is still there with the males and the females.

I would also like to interview a teacher on how boys and girls attitudes to teaching are different, and how, if they had a class of boys, and a class of girls, would their teaching methods change for each class and why.

Three questions I have chosen to look into are:

* Is there a gap between the boys and girls exam marks all the way through education, from primary school right up to university?

* What other factors might be involved in girls achieving more than boys in SATs? And

* Do the teachers have anything to do with girls achieving more than boys in SATs or is it personal achievement?

Background to the research

One study that has been done on gender and SATs was conducted by EARP (Essex action Research Project)

The case study was carried out in Essex. When the school was looked at it was found to have been following the national trend of girls out performing boys in SATs. There is also a predominant anti-boff culture particularly amongst the boys. This has the effect of making it difficult for any boy to show overtly that he wants to work hard at school or at home. Motivated boys and high achievers tend to keep a low profile as a result of the peer group pressure. The laddish-blokey culture rules. It is apparently OK to be clever as long as you do not overdo it by openly working hard at your studies.

The study aimed to plan, implement and evaluate strategies to change the school culture to make academic success for all, the accepted norm; narrow the gap between boys’ and girls’ academic achievement whilst not disadvantaging the girls; ensure improvements can be embedded into the life of the school so they are durable.

The objectives where to achieve: a smaller gap between boys’ and girls’ attainment at GCSE and end of KS3 tests; Boys taking on visible roles of responsibility for culture and learning; Increase in boys attendance at homework clubs in the Learning Resource Centre; Increases in boys attendance at study support sessions.

Discussions were held at all levels and there was consensus amongst staff that in general too many boys were misbehaving in class, forcing teachers to resort to a didactic approach in an attempt to gain control and this is not the best teaching method. It was also felt that boys don’t do as well in written tasks, particularly extended writing and coursework, and there was not enough male attendance at study sessions, and very few boys are seen to enforce the ethos of the school and the culture of learning.

So the EARP suggested that there should be a boy girl seating plan in all classrooms and these plans should also be passed on to the head of the faculty, so that in teacher absence the children still have to be seated in these plans. The reason for the EARP suggesting this was that if a boy and a girl were sat next to one another they don’t talk as much enabling the teacher to be confident enough to try new teaching methods, and the boys tend to copy the girls learning methods aswell. The faculty met for meetings every week to discuss this and any problems that theyw ere having. They were encouraged to help each other out, for example if there was a miscreant in one class, they should arrange for that child to be supervised at the back of another classroom. They were all certain on what behaviour counted as not tolerable. Anyone who was found to have intolerable behaviour was dealt with straight away.

Teachers were encouraged to have more oral and interactive lessons to try to encourage boys participation in the classroom, and this was monitored by the head of faculty. Finally the pupils were given responsibility over others. They were encouraged to become bullying mentors or help others with a peer reading scheme. The students had to have the relevant training in school time, and understood that they needed to be reliable. More boys than girls eventually volunteered for this.

* The number of students using the Learning Resource Centre before and after school for homework club has increased by 300-400%. The ratio of boys to girls in the LRC is generally 3:2.

* A similar proportion of boys and girls attended the Easter holiday GCSE revision school.

* A higher percentage than previously, of boys, traded in their credits for certificates although the percentage of girls doing so was still higher than the percentage of boys.

* End of Key Stage 3 results for students attaining Level 5 and above show that in general girls are still attaining higher than boys. However in mathematics boys have eliminated the gap in mathematics for L5+ and reduced the gap by 2% for L5+ in Science. The gap has widened in English for L5+

* At GCSE the average point score between boys and girls shows a gap of 10 points. Prior data indicated that in general the girls were more able than the boys. Some subjects narrowed or eliminated the gap.

My second study was done by John Abraham (1995). The research was carried out in 1986. The school that this study was conducted in was an academically successful one, and had equal proportions of working and middle class pupils. Ethnicity was not looked at in this experiment as almost all the pupils in the school at this time were white. The study focused on fourth year students, and used questionnaires, interviewing, participant observation and secondary sources.

Eight teachers in the school were asked to identify and describe pupils that were typical boys and typical girls. One was unwilling to do so, but the other seven all made similar comments.

1. Least typical boys were thought to be ‘effeminate, softly spoken, like a girl, immature.’

2. Most typical boys were identified as those from a group known to some of the teachers as the ‘cowboy faction.’ This group were not academically able or dedicated; they were mischievous, frequently got into trouble and flirted with girls a lot.

3. The most typical girls were seen as ‘lacking in confidence, neat, fussy, conscientious, more ready to accept the teachers wishes, very quiet and very pleasant but doesn’t say much and very studious.’

4. The least typical boys were ‘scruffy and not at all feminine, bolshy, hang around with boys, don’t have girls as friends.’

5. The final group was seen as the most typical of girls in some respects but the least typical in other respects. They were the most deviant of the girls; they were quite aggressive and refused to follow school rules. They were more concerned with their appearance and their boyfriends.

Overall, teachers expected more bad behaviour from boys, than from girls. Boys received more bad behaviour notes and reports that they had missed assignments than girls had. However, Abrahams own research suggested that there was little difference between boys and girls in their willingness to spend time on homework. Girls and boys were about equally conscientious in doing maths homework and girls only more conscientious over English. It appeared that pupils were judged as much on teachers gender expectations as they were on actual behaviour.

Girls were expected to be more conscientious, and so they were perceived as being so. Boys tended to be disciplined more, but this was not entirely a product of teacher stereotyping. There was some evidence that boys got more attention in class, but this was not always the case. In some classes the boys got more attention that girls, and vice versa, and some were evenly distributed. The teachers in these classes felt the need to check up on the more disruptive boys and girls were trusted to get on with their work in class.

Another study that interested me was conducted by Eirene Mitsos and Ken Browne. Mitsos and Browne believe that boys are under-achieving in education, although they believe that girls are disadvantaged. Mitsos and Browne put forward reasons for improvement in girls achievement, and reasons for boys underachievement.

The five main reasons for girls improving their achievement are:

1. The ‘women’s movement and feminism have achieved considerable success in improving the rights and raising the expectations and self-esteem of women.’ Women are more likely to aspire to careers that require high levels of qualifications, and are therefore motivated to succeed in education.

2. Sociologists have highlighted some of the disadvantages faced by girls, and, as a result, equal opportunity programmes have been developed, which have improved opportunities for girls.

3. The increase in service-sector jobs considered suitable for women, and the decline in predominantly male, unskilled work, have opened up job opportunities for women, providing added incentives for them to gain qualifications.

4. Evidence suggests that girls are more motivated and hard-working than boys in doing school work. Mitsos and Browne claim that ‘Research shows that the typical 14-yr-old girl can concentrate for 3-4 times as long as her fellow male student’, abd that girls tend to be better organised than boys. Girls’ greater motivation and organizational skills may give them an advantage in coursework which now counts for more in assessments than it did in the past.

5. Mitsos and Browne say that ‘by the age of 16 girls are estimated to be more mature than boys by up to 2 years.’ They therefore take exams more seriously than boys do.

Mitsos and Browne then go on to explain four more reasons for boys underachievement. These are:

1. Teachers may tend to be less strict with boys, giving them more leeway with deadlines and expecting a lower standard of work than they get from girls. This can allow boys to underachieve by failing to push them to achieve their potential.

2. Boys are more likely to disrupt classes. They are considerably more likely to be sent out of the classroom than girls, resulting in them losing learning time in class. Furthermore, boys are much more likely to be expelled: some 80 per cent of those permanently excluded from schools are boys.

3. The decline in male manual work may result in many working-class boys lacking motivation. They see little point of trying hard at school if it is unlikely to result in the sort of job that they would be seeking. The lack of opportunities for some groups of men may lower the self-esteem and confidence of boys from the same groups.

4. Paradoxically, though, research suggests that most boys overestimate their ability. Mitsos and Browne quote research that shows that at GCSE level boys tend to overestimate the grades they will achieve, while girls tend to underestimate them. These over-confident boys may not work hard enough to achieve the sort of results they expect to get.

Mitsos and Browne concluded that the factors that contributed to male under achievement, is ‘an identity crisis for men’. With an increase in female employment and a decline in some traditional areas of men’s work, it has become more difficult for boys to see their future in terms of being a family’s bread winner. However Mitsos and Browne were careful to balance such comments with recognition of continuing disadvantages for girls in education and women in society as a whole.


I decided to conduct a questionnaire as part of my primary research, and I collected some league tables from the internet for my secondary data. I also collected 16 tables and figures from various books and websites.


I sent out twenty questionnaires to twenty people in my sampling frame which was a register of people in my class. The technique that I used to get these people is a stratified sample. I divided the sampling frame into boys and girls and the n picked names out of a hat as to who got chosen out of these lists. I did this because I needed an equal number of boys and girls so that I had a representative of the whole sampling frame. When I conducted the questionnaires I asked the questions and filled out the forms for them, so that I could almost rule out any interviewer bias with these. As I thought that if I left them to fill these questionnaires out on their own they might think that I wanted specific answers, so I chose to get the information that way.

I think questionnaires are a good form of collecting research and data as they are quick to make and relatively cheap to handle and send out. I found when I was asking people these questions; they were rather excited that I was asking them to fill out my questionnaires.

I conducted a pilot study with my questionnaires aswell, to see if all the questions were ok to ask, and not too personal for people to ask. I asked my sister if she would fill out the questionnaire and then tell me her thoughts and opinions about it, and if there is anything that I can change to make this questionnaire any better and easier for people to answer.

Secondary Data

League tables from an article in The Guardian Newspaper

I used a population of all the tables that I could find on the internet and in newspapers around this time, and then I used a random sample and pulled out the Guardian league table to use as my research. Then I went through and highlighted all the subjects in different colours for male and females so that it was easy to read.

The table shows all of the subjects that were taken in May 2001 as part of GCSEs. Some of the figures they contain are: Subject, gender, number sat, A*, A, B, C, (D, E, F, G, and U) (all of these are shown as percentages of the number that sat the exam.) This table is very useful.

I collected the tables and figures mostly from “Social Trends” which is a book full of national statistics. These includes graphs and charts to show: Pupils reaching or exceeding expected standards: by Key Stage and sex, 2003; Students in further education: by type of course and sex; Achievement at GCE A level or equivalent; Highest qualification held: by sex and ethnic group, 2003; Enrolments on adult education courses: by age, attendance mode and sex, 2002; Examination achievements: by sex, 2001/2002; attainment and outcomes: GCSE/GNVQ Qualifications; Percentage of 15yr old pupils achieving no GCSE/GNVQ passes, England, 1988/89 to 2002/03 etc.

I think this is a good way of collecting data, as it is accurate and is used by many people. They are set out very well, and are easy to read.

Results and Analysis of my questionnaires

Graph one- In your opinion which sex gets the most attention in class from the teacher?

This graph shows that the sex that gets the most attention in class from the teacher were females. A reason for this might be that the females in the class are more eager to learn and ask teachers more questions than boys.

Graph two – Which sex distracts you most in lessons?

This graph shows that males are the sex that distracts other people more in lessons. A reason for this might be that boys are more boisterous and loud in class when with their friends. They would rather mess around than learn in class, and in doing so they disrupt other people from working.

Graph three – Do you think you would work better in a single sex lesson?

The majority of the people that completed my questionnaire said that no, they would not work better in single sex lessons. The most popular reason that was put forward for this was that people said that in mixed classes you can get different views and opinions from the different sexes. Another popular reason put forward for this would be that girls/boys make the lessons more fun for each other.

Graph four – Generally do you think you would be better taught by male or female teachers?

As you can see from the graph most people thought that they would be better taught by a female teacher. Reasons put forward for this were that female students felt more confident talking to, and sharing more ideas with female teachers, and find it easier to relate to female teachers, and vice versa for the male teachers and male pupils.

Graph five- What is the most important aspect of school life for you?

This was an open ended question, and as you can see from the graph there were various answers. The two most popular answers were friends, and education. Most people realise that they cannot get anywhere without an education, and this was the reason for them choosing education. The people who said that friends were the most important aspect of school life for them gave the reason that school would be very boring and they wouldn’t go if they did not have their friends. They also said that friends broke up the day for them.

Results and analysis of my secondary data

For my secondary data, I collected a full set of results (1999/2001) that were attained in every subject by males and females at GCSE level.

I produced two graphs for this data.

From the first graph, titled ‘A graph to show number of pupils entered for GCSE in 2001,’ it shows how many pupils were entered into each subject that year. The bars are quite even, with approximately the same number of each sex opting to do the same course. More females studied at than males, also more females studied art, RE, English Literature, Spanish, Other modern languages, and other social sciences. More males entered for English, geography, design and technology, business studies, biology, chemistry and physics.

On the second graph, there are the results from these exams. So from the other graph we know that approximately the same number of pupils entered each subject. Looking at this graph, we see that even though more males were entered for business studies, English, geography, design and technology and chemistry, the females got a higher pass rate at A* to C. The subjects from the first graphs where more females than males were entered show that the females also outperformed the males here as well. The subjects on the second graph where males achieved more passes than females were only physics and chemistry.

As you can see from these results, females do exceptionally better than males at GCSE, with more passes at A* to C in nearly all subjects, even those where there are more males in that subject.



Now that I have completed my research, I will write about how I did this, and what I thought about it.

I think the questionnaires that I did maybe could have been for a wider population, for example, asking children from a primary school to complete the questionnaire, or an adult attending a university to complete the questionnaire, instead of just teenagers attending at a secondary school. I think maybe the questionnaires could have been filled in by more people, as with any subject or questionnaire, the more people that complete it, then the more conclusive the results can be, and more reliable.

When I asked people to fill in the questionnaires, I stayed with them, and read them the questions and filled the questionnaires myself. I think if I did this study again, I would do this for half of the questionnaires and for the other half I would send them to people, and then request that they send them back to me filled in.

I would not send all of the questionnaires off, as if I did people might not return them, and have problems filling them in, whereas if I was stood there asking them the questions then I would be there if they had any questions that they needed to ask me, although if I did this there would be a bigger risk of interviewer bias. I think if I sent the questionnaires off to people, I would send them to five extra people, or maybe even ten, to allow for some people not sending them back, or not filling out the questionnaires properly.

If I did the questionnaires again, and used this sampling technique, I would remove questions 18, and 19. I don’t think that these questions were answered very well, or seriously with the response I got from people when I asked them. I also don’t think that the people that filled in the questionnaires quite understood what I was asking them. Also, it wasn’t really relevant to the research questions that I had asked myself.

If I was to make these questionnaires again I would add the questions

* What level of education are you at?

* What levels did you achieve in KS2 SATs?

* What levels did you achieve in KS3 SATs?

* What grades did you get at GCSE?

* What grades did you get at A level?

* What level do you hope to achieve in your degree?

I would add these questions because I want people at different levels of education to fill out the questionnaires so that I can see if the gap between male and females grades stays the same throughout their education. I think they would be helpful, as I could ask males and females at all different levels of education.

If I was to do complete this study again I would do a participant observation. I would do this as a fully participant observer, and also, a fully covert researcher. I would sit in my own class at school, where there is an equal distribution of males and females (it would be no good doing this in an all female class) and watch what their attitude to the subject is, whether they do the work, and if there is more class disruption from males or females. I would not let my teacher know that I was observing this class, because he might change the way that he teaches for that lesson, and that is no good, as I will know, that my results, and findings from that day would be inaccurate.

If I did do this observation, then I would expect the males in the class to be more disruptive to the class as a whole, than the females. I think that the males would not do as much work, as most of the females in the class, and maybe challenge the teacher in that class. If I had unlimited access to funds, I would also use a camera, and tape the lesson secretly, and analyse the video later, as then I would have evidence that this has happened. I would also record the lesson with a tape, and if I did this, I could find something that maybe I had missed in the class when I was observing.

Another thing that I would do if I was to do this study again would be to conduct interviews with four people. I would conduct an interview with three adults. A male that has just finished university and a female that has just finished university and a male and female teacher that has been teaching for at least five years, so that they can comment on the difference between the learning attitudes of the different sexes. I would conduct them informally, as it is much easier in my opinion to do this. I would not get as nervous, and neither would the interviewees, and there is a smaller risk of interviewer bias this way, as the interviewee won’t feel as pressured to answer how they think I want them too.

I would ask questions like what grades they have achieved all through their education, and then I would compare the male and the females answer for this. I would ask the teacher questions like how girl’s attitudes to learning are different than the attitude of boys to learning, and if there is a difference in their grade attainments at what ever level that teacher teaches at. Another question that I would ask would be how the children behaved in class, does the teacher deal with teaching each sex of pupil in a different way, and if so, why? If I had a lot of time, I would interview three different teachers; one from a primary school, one from a secondary school teacher, and one from a university, if this was possible.

Another way I collected information was to go on the internet and find some results for GCSE level for boys and girls in 2001. I collected these, as this the official statistics posted by the government, so I felt I could rely quite heavily on these for some accurate results. These results were very conclusive. In most of the subjects, even the ones that more males were entered for, females got a larger pass rate than males, and more males achieved grades D-U. This can be seen on the graphs that I completed to show these results.

I think this was a good way to look at how boys and girls were achieving at this particular level, as these were taken from government statistics. A problem with these results though, is that they are from 2001, and now we are in 2004, the trend could have changed since then. If I was to do the study again, with unlimited funds, I would send off for the GCSE results that I found in 2001, for the last 10 years, and see if the pattern has changed. I think I should do this because in my study now, I only have the results for one year, if I had them for ten years then I would be able to comment more accurately on the results, and suggest more accurate reasons for this, and also see if the trends have changed at all.




* www.eng.umu.se/education

* www.dfee.gov.uk

* www.tes.co.uk

* www.guardianunlimited.co.uk/education

* www.hartland64.freeserve.co.uk

* http://cem.dur.ac.uk

* www.statistics.gov.uk

* www.hesa.ac.uk

* www.oecd.org


* The Guardian

* The Lancashire Evening Telegraph


“Statistical Volume: Education and Training Statistics for the UK”

Department for Education and Skills, 2003.

The Stationary Office.

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Department for Education and Skills, 2003.

The Stationary Office.

Boudon, R.

“Education, Opportunity and social inequality”

John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1974

Brittain, E.

Teacher opinions on aspects of school life

“Educational research vol 18, no2”


Swann, Lord.

“Education for all: a brief guide”

HMSO, London 1985

Pullinger, John.

“Social Trends”

Paperback- The Stationary Office Books- January 2000.

M. Haralambos & M. Holborn

“Sociology, Themes and Perspectives”

Paperback- Collins Educational

Halsey. A.h., Floud, J. & Anderson, C.A.

“Education, Economy and Society”

The Free Press, New York, 1961

Frances Smith, James O’Gorman and Robin Heald

“Sociology: A new Approach”

Causeway Press

Jonathan Blundell

“Active Sociology for GCSE”

Longman 2001


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