Tuesday 28 January 2020

Girls take the lead over boys in Leaving Cert exams

Test results can be an important element of assessment but we shouldn't be still treating the Junior Certificate as an end-of-school qualification.
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

GIRLS have done it again, with better grades than the boys in the Leaving Certificate.

An education expert said it is because of the traditional nature of the Leaving Cert, which favours the diligent approach of female students to their studies and exam preparation.

In contrast, boys do better in multiple choice-style papers, because they "take a stab" at answers, while girls "agonise" about which box to tick, said Dr Anne Looney.

Dr Looney, director of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), said the superior performance of girls was a feature of education systems that relied on written, terminal exams.

She said as the Irish second-level system went through the reform process currently underway, "one of the things we would expect to see is a better spread and a kind of system that favours both girls and boys".

Dr Looney was commenting on the gender breakdown of the Leaving Certificate results, which follow the familiar pattern of girls outperforming in almost all subjects.

Girls aim higher to begin with and are more likely to take the "honours" papers. Of the total 226,434 higher level grades given out, 117,980 went to girls, compared with 108,454 for boys,

In contrast, at ordinary level, boys accounted for 69,604 of all grades, against 59,302 for girls.

The figures also show that, at both levels boys are generally more likely to score below D grades.

The girls' superior performance starts at the very top of the scale. At both higher and ordinary levels, girls achieved more A1s than boys, a pattern that is repeated down to C3 at higher level and B3 at ordinary level, while boys dominate in the lower grades.

Of the overall 10,723 A grades awarded at higher level, 5,872 went to girls, compared with 4,851 for boys.

At the other end of the scale, the split of the 6,967 E grades was 3,976 for boys compared with 2,991 for girls.

At higher level, across more than 30 Leaving Certificate subjects, the only ones where boys scored more As were in maths, applied maths, chemistry, Latin, Italian, Japanese and Arabic.

As an example, 12pc of boys achieved an A in maths, compared with 8pc of girls

Across the spread of higher level ABCs, the boys held their lead in maths, applied maths, and Latin. However, the girls went on to overtake them in the other subjects where the boys held the A grade bragging rights.

Even in subjects traditionally associated with males, such as engineering and construction studies, the girls stole a march on A grades.

While boys picked up more As in applied maths and chemistry, girls shone at the top in physics.

And female students are also showing that they are well able to mix it down on the farm, with over 13pc of them achieving an A grade in Ag Science compared with 9pc of boys.

In English, the most widely taken Leaving Cert subject, 11pc of girls notched up an A, compared with 8pc of boys.

The girls' ability with modern languages is evident too, and apart from Italian, they put in superior performances in this area.

Another major subject grouping where girls took the lead was business accounting and economics.

It was a similar story at ordinary level, with girls achieving higher grades in most subjects.

An area that always gives rise to concern is performance at ordinary level maths, with a "fail" rate this year of almost 9pc. Boys were more likely to count among this number than girls.

The planned reforms at second-level, to which Dr Looney referred, are designed to phase out the traditional Junior Cert June exams and replace them with continuous assessment of students, and by their own teachers.

The changes would also involve less focus on written tests and more on portfolios and presentations.

Teacher unions are opposing this and say they will not co-operate with the abolition of the Junior Cert exam.

The first phase of Junior Cert reform starts next month when the new English syllabus is rolled out. While teachers say they will teach it, their say they will not conduct assessment when the time comes.

The matter will be the subject of discussions between Education Minister Jan O' Sullivan and the unions in the coming weeks and could become the focus of the new school term.

Irish Independent

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