It’s A Level results day!

// 19 August 2010

It’s a really big day for lots of teenagers as they get their A Level results today, and I hope all our readers got what they were hoping for this morning (or next week, if you’re awaiting GCSE results).

We can probably expect to see some articles over the week day or two observing the phenomenon of girls doing better than boys in most subjects at A Level and GCSE. If we’re super lucky, we might even get some blaming feminism for this. Examples of the genre from previous years include this, this, this and this.

Whilst I have no argument with raising school standards for all students, and I’d really rather everyone did as well as they possibly could, the ‘what about teh menz’ tone of these articles tends to chap my hide. Because I’m fantastically lazy, though, I’m going to go ahead and link straight back to a post I wrote on the subject back in 2005.

why do we persist in considering female achievement purely through a male lens? Not “isn’t it great that girls do well at school; how can we ensure those achievements are locked in for the rest of their lives?”, but “look how awful it is for boys that girls outperform them; how can we fix this?” […] The reality is that until women’s achievements in school allow them to gain the positions they deserve in life outside academia, feminism has not gone far enough.

Comments From You

Holly // Posted 19 August 2010 at 3:04 pm

I have trouble sympathizing with these “but what about the the BOYS?” articles as well. Women had to fight tooth and nail to be allowed to get the same education as men. And now that they’re out-performing men, suddenly we’re supposed to be worried about the inequalities of a system that was set up by men for men (or future men, in any case) in the first place? Hello, media outcry—where were you 50 years ago? Or 100 years ago?

Also, is it any wonder that boys don’t do as well as girls in school (on average) when we still live in a society that rewards them for simply being male? Boys start out ahead, so of course they don’t feel like they have to try as hard when competing with girls.

Fiona // Posted 19 August 2010 at 5:01 pm

Yep, all very true and we can no doubt also expect the ubiquitous photos of attractive seventeen-year-olds in crop tops jumping up and down in celebration.

Ruth // Posted 19 August 2010 at 5:50 pm

I think we need to be careful making generalised (or “on average”) statements about boys not trying because society “rewards them for being male”. Male graduate unemployment (e.g., as we are talking about A levels) has been significantly worse than women’s over the past couple of years at least(

Many young men (my son amongst them) could be forgiven for thinking society has “rewarded” him for being male with the dole queue. And he got very good A levels actually, plus a Maths degree, to no avail.

We do not help the case of encouraging young women by denigrating young men. It is not, or should not be, a zero sum game.

Ruth // Posted 19 August 2010 at 5:52 pm

Oh, and yes, I did read the rest of the article and no, it is not acceptable that women once in work are not properly rewarded.

But actually getting a job at all? Harder if you are male.

feministavatar // Posted 19 August 2010 at 6:39 pm

In case you need some A-level imagery from the press-

Victoria // Posted 19 August 2010 at 7:09 pm

Ah! I just read through the four linked articles in horror, especially the delightful dose of misogyny from the mail. I’m sixteen, and awaiting my GCSE results, but I took half of my AS maths a year early, as my set was accelerated. According to the educational specialists, we girls ought to have performed less well in this, as the course is entirely based on one exam which is the domain of the men. Surprisingly enough, myself and all my friends who took the exam got an A.

It seems clear that one of the main culprits to this exam inequality is the male dominated macho society, that doesn’t reward long hours of studying, as it is not ‘manly’ – but somehow boys are still expected to do just as well as girls without this study? Am I missing something here?

Perhaps it would be better to stop comparing male and female results and focus, instead, on individual achievements.

polly // Posted 19 August 2010 at 7:23 pm

Hmm interesting that thing about male graduates being unemployed. Here’s what a specialist in the field had to say.

“Now Carl Gilleard, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters, which represents more than 800 major “milk round” graduate employers, has warned that an affluent upbringing has left many UK male graduates with a “degree of complacency”. He said there was a feeling among his members that British male graduates were being outperformed by women and competition from overseas when applying for jobs.

“When I talk to graduate recruiters about how impressive candidates applying for jobs are, I do pick up a sense that female graduates are a little more mature and focused, that they put together good applications,” said Gilleard.

He argued that a “relaxed” upbringing could be to blame: “One possible reason might be a degree of complacency because of an extensive period of growth in an affluent society and it may be that these male students think the fact they went to university is going to be enough to guarantee them the dream career. That isn’t the case. I think women generally are more level-headed and sensible,” he said.”

So is the problem maybe that males have a sense of entitlement and women are more likely to have a realistic attitude to the jobs market? How many of the female graduates in work are doing jobs like temping or other low paid work that male graduates may consider ‘beneath’ them? Personally I’ve got a reasonable job now, but I’ve done a lot of low paid menial stuff to get there – gaining relevant experience along the way of course.

Jennifer Drew // Posted 19 August 2010 at 7:24 pm

Not to worry Daily Male and other male-dominated media who always ‘get their knickers in a twist’ over girls supposedly superceding boys in the A and GCSE results, because men continue to be paid far more than women.

See it all works out in the end – men get to earn far more than women, despite boys not superceding girls in exam results.

Equal pay for equal work continues to be a pipe dream and yes the world continues to be a ‘male-centric’ one because don’t you know – women’s primary role is to marry and reproduce children. Men’s role continues to be that of the mythical ‘male breadwinner.’

A J // Posted 19 August 2010 at 8:39 pm

Hmm, maybe boys would do better at A Levels if they had some high achieving boys to look up to. Reading the papers though, it seems to be only good-looking thin blonde girls with low-cut tops and a propensity for unnecessary jumping get good A Levels…! Odd that…

But seriously, I’m not sure exactly how I feel about this.

It wasn’t a good thing when girls were underperforming against boys in their A Levels, and I can’t really see it as a great thing just because it’s now mostly the other way around. A Levels shouldn’t favour one gender over the other. And I’ve never believed that either boys or girls are inherently more able, or harder working than the other, though some people, rather bizarrely, seem to do this. I’d much rather see a school system which fairly allows the most able of either gender to shine, rather than favouring one gender or the other.

It’ll presumably all be irrelevant in a few years anyway though, by which time everyone will be getting A*s all round anyway! ;)

Sheila // Posted 20 August 2010 at 9:00 am

If you analyse the stats as opposed to the hype, isn’t the reporting just an annual excuse to put pretty girls on the front pages of even “serious” newspapers”. They’ve been running the “girls do well” article every year since I took my A levels 30 years ago. (Sadly, I have brown hair and wore a top that covered my midriff and so lost out on my 15 minutes of fame on the front of the Daily Telegraph) I’m gender neutral on A levels. I have both sons and a daughter and I hope they do equally well. Newspapers wouldn’t sell if they ran a front page with some ordinary looking boys and girls in hoodies saying they did OK.

Lynne Miles // Posted 20 August 2010 at 9:03 am

Just to clarify – the point of the article was never to say it’s a good thing that boys are falling behind, it was questionning the thrust of the reporting. That is to say – even though girls do better at school, they are less likely to be able to translate that academic success into pay-and-promotions success. The lads do worse in exams, but better in life anyway. And my point was nobody is reporting on that.

Lynne Miles // Posted 20 August 2010 at 9:04 am

…and I definitely am not hoping anyone’s sons, brothers or any young male readers of this site don’t do well in their A Levels!

Horry // Posted 20 August 2010 at 9:12 am

AJ, I think it’s worth remembering that there’s a significant difference between boys “underperforming” compared to girls, and the apparent opposite happening in the past. First, contrary to popular myth, before the introduction of GCSEs and coursework, girls performed on average as well or slightly better than boys at O-level. Second, this was within a system that overtly discriminated against girls (for instance, schools entering them for fewer qualifications as it wasn’t worth the expense, or requiring them to have a higher pass mark for the 11-plus on the basis that boys “matured later”). This overt discrimination is not remotely comparable to testing the same skills in individuals and finding that one group, on average, performs less well (and thereby suggesting that the questions are wrong since boys must, necessarily, perform as well as girls, regardless of personal expectations, social attitudes or dedication). Victoria makes the point well above – surely it’s attitudes and expectations that need to change. Or do we really want an environment in which the “right” of boys to receive more in return for less is sacrosanct? (And I write this as the mother of boys and someone who works in education – on a serious level, I truly want them to value and appreciate learning and knowledge, not to demand that the goalposts are constantly adjusted as a justification for ongoing male privilege.)

Middle Man // Posted 20 August 2010 at 11:56 am

I stumbled across this site and found it illuminating and intriguing in equal measure. Keep it up. You might also enjoy this:

coldharbour // Posted 20 August 2010 at 12:04 pm

I think we should also remember by far the largest factor determining academic achievement is the socio-economic background of the children, with the ingrained ‘market philosophy’ of the three main parties it’s almost inevitable that further indirect privatization of the schooling system in England & Wales this is going to get even more acute. There was a good article by Fiona Millar in the Guardian in April, worth a read.

aimee // Posted 20 August 2010 at 1:37 pm

I think what’s interesting as well is the kind of ‘primary schools are too girly’ comments about how schools aren’t geared towards stereotypical ‘manly’ methods of learning. Never do I hear that boys are being socialised AWAY from the neccessary requiements and demands of education, which I think is more likely the case. Don’t blame the teachers, blame the culture that tells boys that learning is stupid and beating eachother up is good.

coldharbour // Posted 20 August 2010 at 6:06 pm

“blame the culture that tells boys that learning is stupid and beating each other up is good.”

Well that would require the simple understanding that patriarchy is bad for either gender or sex, if a lot of people who post on here refuse to accept that (oh da poor menz) how do you expect to convince the educational (and political) conservatives?

Colin // Posted 20 August 2010 at 11:30 pm

I’ve never understood the whole thing about coursework supposedly favouring girls – I hate exams with a passion, and did far better in my (coursework-based) GCSEs than in my A-Levels.

I also think that there’s an anti-learning culture amongst boys from all social backgrounds. An enthusiasm for learning (and especially what might be termed “learning for learning’s sake”) is generally seen as undesirable, geeky and ‘unmanly’. There also seems to be a perception that the ‘swotty’ lads are far less attractive to girls than the class clowns, jack-the-lads and “cheeky charmers”.

coldharbour // Posted 21 August 2010 at 1:53 pm

“I also think that there’s an anti-learning culture amongst boys from all social backgrounds.”

The striking aspect of the wealth of statistical data regarding the decline in class-mobility towards Edwardian levels under New Labour is from a media point of view it was widely publicised and accepted from both the left and from the right; from the left came the standard argument regarding Labour’s failure to readdress the socio-economic inequalities under Thatcher/Major, from the right came the general argument that inequality was just something we have to accept in a market regime, and that from Labour’s reign it was something that could not be mitigated by high spending social policies (irrespective of the fact that the high spending was funneled towards inefficient sub-contracted private business via the public sector). Despite Colin’s thesis that a anti-learning culture for boys exists across the social strata there remains a high level of academic success in Grammar and Private schools for children lucky enough to have wealthy parents, those at the bottom of the socio-economic scale are not so lucky. The ultra-elitist schooling system in England & Wales is only ever going to produce one thing if I may put it bluntly: a superior and successful one for the rich and a inept and pitiful one for the poor. And then the higher education system is another rotten kettle of fish….

Elmo // Posted 31 August 2010 at 7:32 pm

look, look!!! I thought this man was sensible! apparently boys “arnt fufilling their potential” because girls are doing better. Who says they arnt fufillng their potential? Whats fufilling their potential mean-beating girls? Grrrrrr

Amy Clare // Posted 1 September 2010 at 10:46 am

I was just about to post about the same programme, Elmo… I saw it advertised the other day and just thinking about it makes me angry!

How about an equivalent programme called ‘the extraordinary employer for women’ in which the ideal job environment for women is created so they can fulfil their ‘potential’ in the job market. Oh right, that wouldn’t happen would it, because we live in a patriarchy. FFS.

Alicante // Posted 4 November 2010 at 5:02 pm

Very enlightening and beneficial to someone whose been out of the circuit for a long time.

– Lora

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