Buckingham academic hits the headlines, saying girls are cleverer than boys

As girls continue to do better in GCSE exams, 'it would be simpler to just accept they are cleverer', says Prof Alan Smithers

Thursday, 12th August 2021, 1:00 am
Updated Thursday, 12th August 2021, 9:22 am

A University of Buckingham academic has made the front page of The Telegraph and featured in other national newspapers, after saying that girls are cleverer than boys.

Prof Alan Smithers says it's not just a case of girly swots and teachers’ pets – the latest research on GCSEs suggests that girls are actually cleverer than boys.

The report, GCSE 2021, Another Year of Teacher Assessment, by Prof Smithers, director of the University of Buckingham’s Centre for Education and Employment Research, also argues that another year of teacher assessment could strengthen the hand of those who want to do away with GCSE exams.

Prof Alan Smithers

Teacher assessment in 2020 resulted in higher grades at all levels – the pass rate hit 100 per cent, top grades went up from 20.8 per cent to 26.2 per cent, and the important qualifying at least a C grade rose from 63 per cent to 76.3 percent. A-level results published earlier this week suggest grades may go even higher this year.

Girls continue to dominate GCSE exams with 30.2 per cent achieving top grades in 2020 and gap of eight percentage points, up from 6.2 points in 2019. This trend has been going on ever since GCSEs replaced O-levels, according to Prof Smithers.

Of the 30 most popular GCSE subjects in the UK, boys were ahead for top grades in only four - other sciences, physics, maths and statistics. In contrast, girls were ahead by margins of 32.8 percentage points in engineering, 20.6pp in art and design, and 18.6pp in design and technology, as well as the other subjects - including a massive lead of 13.3pp in English.

Prof Smithers said: “Girls have long been ahead in schoolwork, but the tendency has been to explain it away.

"When they did better in the 11-plus, it was said that they matured earlier, when they leapt ahead in GCSEs it was said that they were better at modularised than end-of-course exams, and now with teacher assessment they are more likely to be favoured by the teachers.

"It would be simpler to just accept they are cleverer.

“When I was at school, the brightest person in my class was a girl, but her parents were adamant that she left at 16 because ‘more education was wasted on a girl’.

"Now society’s script has changed, girls are able to develop their talents to the full.

"In 1980 only two in five university students were female, now the ratio has been reversed."

Top grades went up in every subject in 2020, the increases ranging from 15.1 percentage points in engineering and economics to 2.9 pp in double award science.

Parents could add their weight to the campaign to ditch GCSE exams.

Prof Smithers said: “Schools and teachers do not like GCSE exams because they are judged in league tables and inspectors’ reports on their pupils’ results. With teacher assessment, they are in control.

"Independent schools do not like GCSE exams either because, with the great majority of their pupils staying on till 18, they interrupt the smooth progression to A-level.

"Many educationists do not like them because they believe they distort the curriculum, are harmful to adolescent wellbeing, and are biased against the disadvantaged.

"It’ll be quite a task for the government to put the genie back into the bottle.”