The PP put into reverse – or is it?

Results for A levels were published yesterday in the UK.  This is the first year to show the outcomes of the reforms introduced by Michael Gove, and the coverage beforehand verged on the hysterical:  would the rushed through reforms lead to a drop in achievement?

In the event, the results were something of a damp squib – for the commentators, not for the students, of course.  There was a tiny uplift overall in the top grades.  But since Ofqual had intervened to ensure there would be no dramatic drop in the results, this was hardly an objective improvement.

Maybe as a result, the headline-writers fixed on something else:  “Boys outperform girls”, was one such.  Rosemary Bennett, the education editor of The Times, wrote a piece which started

Boys emerged as the winners in this summer’s A levels, clinching more top grades than girls for this first time in almost two decades.

So that’s blown a big hole in the basic thesis behind the Paula Principle.  Or has it?  Boys scored 0.5 percentage points higher than girls in achieving A and A* grades.    In the 13 reformed A levels girls had led by 0.9 points, but boys are now equal.  That seems to be it.  A stronger weighting towards exams has helped boys more, but hardly to any great effect.

When we turn to university entrance, 31.7% of 18-year-old girls have gained places – compared to 22.9% of boys.  The figures for both sexes have gone up by 0.3 compared with last year.   According to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), girls are now 39% more likely to go to university than boys.  These are large gaps.  But I suppose that’s not news, since it’s been going on for years.

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