In 2017, 70.9% of girls were awarded at least a C – or a 4 grade – in their GCSEs, compared to just 61.5% of their male counterparts. This gender gap leapt from 16.1%in 2016, to 17.4%, in 2017.

Reasons as to why this gap exists are hotly debated, as have been the suggested solutions over the years.

In this article, we want to take a look at the potential reasons behind the gap, and explore how the move to linear exams could be set to shake things up.

Girls versus boys – The key differences

In 2016, maths was the only subject in which boys achieved a higher proportion of top grades than girls.

Fast forward to 2017, and boys also did better than their female peers in physics, economics and statistics, in addition to maths.

Interestingly however, we are starting to see a reversal of fortunes when it comes to A-levels as, for the first time in history, boys edged ahead of girls for the top grades, with 26.6% of boys achieving a grade A or A*, compared with 26.1% of girls.

Why does a gender gap even exist?

While some argue the case for social differences, such as how the average girl or boy feels peer pressure in different ways, others make the case for biological differences, including the typical 1 year gap between hitting puberty.

Then there are those who refer to the fact that while boys’ brains are larger, girls’ brains grow faster – and each gender often has drastically different interests and learning styles. 

Whatever the cause, ongoing work is essential if the gap is to be closed, as it not only represents a difference in school, but also in the make-up of UK university campuses.

This year, girls are 30 per cent more likely than boys to win a university place – a figure that is being celebrated because it’s down on last year’s 31 per cent. The gap is narrowing, but this is not progress worthy of the name.

Linear exams – could they reform the gender gap?

Tentative conclusions were drawn from the results of 2017 A-levels when boys coped better with the introduction of new, linear A-levels.

While 24.3% of both genders gained either A or A*, this figure actually represented a sharp decrease for girls – declining by 1.1%, compared to boys’ 0.2% fall.

There are some potentially interesting gender patterns, but it’s too early to draw any firm conclusions. In reformed subjects females are performing as well, if not better than males, though there is a narrowing of the gap in results between males and females at those high grades. It will be interesting to see as we progress through the reforms whether this pattern becomes a trend and whether the gender gap at A-level closes.

Given that the new linear exams follow an end-of-course assessment structure, in place of gradual assessments following each module, it may be that the gender gap becomes largely swayed on which gender is better at memorisation.

While other factors might be at play, such as who stays calmer and more collected under pressure, and which gender is typically more willing to revise for extended periods, full and frank discussions about the issue can’t be held until the results of the 2018 GCSEs arrive.