The Centre for Education and Employment Research (CEER) annual review of A-levels, published on 13th August 2018, predicted that this year’s A-level results would see boys getting more top grades than girls and further close the gap at grade C and above.

The striking outcome last year, as the table below shows, is that in every one of the 13 newly reformed A-levels last year boys did better relative to girls.  There are another 11 new A-levels coming on stream this year, so it is likely that the impact will be even greater.

Gender Gap at A*/A

Subject2 Girls Lead1
2016 2017
Art & Design +7.1 +4.3
Biology +1.0 +0.5
Business Studies +3.9 +2.3
Chemistry -1.7 -3.5
Computing +5.0 -2.5
Economics +4.7 +3.8
English Language +3.7 +2.7
English Literature +0.5 -0.8
Eng Lang & Lit +2.2 +1.1
History +5.3 +3.7
Physics +3.7 +1.8
Psychology +9.5 +8.9
Sociology +6.4 +6.1
  1. Girls’ lead in percentage points denoted by plus sign and boys’ lead by minus sign.
  2. The 13 reformed A-levels taken for the first time in 2017.

Last year boys moved ahead of girls at A*-A for the first time this century and reduced the gender gap in A* -C grades to its pre-modularisation level.

The results overall are likely to be close to what they were last year, but more likely to be lower.  This would be for several reasons: the doubling of the tough new A-levels; the explosion of unconditional offers causing some students to take their foot off the pedal; and AS no longer providing the half-way incentive that individuals were already on their way to achieving a good grade.

Last year results rose when they might have been expected to go down since the reformed A-levels are intended to be tougher. Nonetheless, poorer performance was mitigated by Ofqual intervening to keep the grades up so as not to disadvantage the first students to take them. Nevertheless, a direct comparison of just the reformed A-levels showed A*/A grades were down by 0.7 percentage points.

Ofqual published provisional figures for entries in England in 2018, showing that they are down by 3.3%. This is more than the drop of 2.5% in 18-year-olds.  With the extra A-levels, such as general studies and critical thinking coming to an end and cost pressures on schools, candidates could be taking fewer A-levels.

AS entries have dropped 60 percent since 2016 since the reform of A-level courses.

Results for English language and English literature were published separately for the first time in 2017. In English Language they were extremely poor, the second lowest of all subjects, with only ICT, which is being phased out, below it.

English literature, on the other hand, came in the top ten, with boys ahead of girls for top grades. Less than a third of the entry were boys, so those choosing this subject are likely to be confident in their abilities. A similar effect was observed in physics, where the small number of girls taking the subject did better on average than the boys.

Although there was a decrease in top grades in Northern Ireland in 2017, it is still streets ahead of England and Wales. This receives surprisingly little attention, which may be connected with it still having a grammar school system.


Professor Alan Smithers, Centre for Education and Employment Research, University of Buckingham, 01280 820270 (direct line)

Ben Nicholls

Research Fellow, CEER

Pamela Robinson

Dr Pamela Robinson

Deputy Director of CEER

Professor Alan Smithers

Professor Alan Smithers

Director of CEER

Dr John Williams

Senior Research Fellow, CEER