The traditional gender divide in education was dismantled at the top of the academic spectrum this year as boys registered more A*s than girls, it was revealed.
Data published by Britain’s major exam boards revealed that that gap in the proportion of A grades had also narrowed this year compared with 2011.
Head teachers’ leaders suggested that boys had been motivated by the challenge of achieving the new A* – introduced for the first time two years ago – combined with growing competition for places at leading universities.
It is also believed that an increase in the take up of maths and science – traditionally seen as “male subjects” – may also contribute to the narrowing of scores at the top-end. But girls continued to dominate other grades.
The disclosure was made as around 335,000 students across England, Wales and Northern Ireland received their A-level results.
Andrew Hall, chief executive of exam board AQA, said: "The girls are still outperforming boys - but the gap is narrowing."
According to figures, some 8.0 per cent of boys’ entries were graded A* this year compared with 7.9 per cent of exams taken by girls. Last year, both groups registered the same top-end results.
Data released by the Joint Council for Qualifications showed girls continued to outperform boys in terms of the proportion of A to E grades being claimed, although the gap in As narrowed over the last 12 months.
Some 25.8 per cent of exams taken by boys were graded at least an A, down from 26.2 per cent last year. For girls, A grades dropped from 27.7 to 27.2 per cent.
But girls continued to far outperform boys further down the academic spectrum by gaining a larger share of B and C grades this summer compared with 2011.
Figures also show a stark gulf in the type of subjects being studied by the two groups, with girls considerably more likely to study art, drama, English, French and sociology, while boys dominate entries in chemistry, maths, physical education and physics.
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “A lot has been said in the past about the gender gap and that message has obviously got through and teachers have focused on boys’ achievement.
“I think also students generally are much more focused on employment opportunities – they are being very careful about their choice of university subject – and boys always tend to focus on short-term goals of that kind.
“They can see that they need those top grades and they will focus on that and it is nice to see that boys and girls are almost neck and neck now.”
Helen Wright, former president of the Girls' Schools Association and head of St Mary's Calne in Wiltshire, said the difference between boys and girls at A* was “small”, adding that the focus should be on ensuring students choose subjects that "are right for them, regardless of gender stereotype".
"It's not a competition between girls and boys,” she said. “What we want is for all our young people to achieve.
"We have still got a long way to go for society but we're doing pretty well. Girls in girls' schools do amazingly well in subjects traditionally regarded as boys' subjects."
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