This year’s GCSE results in the UK are out, and while 19.8% of boys’ entries were awarded an A* or an A this year, 26.5% of girls scored the top mark – a gap of 6.7 percentage points. The media cites a lot of reasons for this, such as the high share of female teachers favouring girls in the education system or boys’ higher need for physical activity or their lower reading skills (this BBC article is one of the more balanced articles with some reasonable attempts at explanation), but in my opinion they all fail to get to the core issue.
First of all, I totally dismiss the explanation of the high share of female teachers discouraging boys. I don’t know about your experience, but I had some female teachers who favoured the boys in the classroom very clearly. As a girl, I have received much fairer treatment from male teachers. This may just be my personal experience, but it definitely shows that there is no evidence that female teachers will be more suited at bringing out the best in girls than boys. In addition, there is clear evidence that teachers as a whole instinctively favour boys over girls in the classroom: they are called up more often, get interrupted less easily, and every single study on gifted education that asked teachers to identift the most gifted students in class has found teachers will name a far larger share of “highly gifted” boys than girls than what you should expect based on the actual distribution of IQ in boys and girls. So poor boys being discriminated against by teachers? I don’t think so.
A key reason, in my opinion, is the gender pay gap. Girls are just like many of the hard working first generation immigrants: they know they have to work much harder than boys to get anywhere near as far as average boys. Girls grow up hearing about how they have to be twice as good as boys to get to the top, that no matter how good they are, they will miss out on promotions and rewards, and this generation of girls is determined to fight this bias. The real outrage is not the gender attainment gap. The real outrage is that DESPITE the far higher achievement and hard work of girls, these same girls will still end up earning less and exerting less power and influence in business and politics than their underperforming male classmates.
Enough of babble about the system favouring girls. Let’s worry about the boys once we have eliminated the gender pay gap.