Girls continue to outperform boys in all subjects by the end of primary school in England, according to the latest key stage 2 test results published by the Department for Education (DfE).
The results, from the national curriculum tests and assessments taken by pupils in year six, known as Sats, showed 70% of girls reached the expected standards in maths, reading and writing, compared with just 60% for boys, widening the gap from 8% last year to 10% this year.
Across England, 65% of pupils in state schools achieved the government’s expected standards in the three subjects, a 1% improvement on 2018.
The widening of the gender gap was caused mainly by a dip in the proportion of boys reaching the expected standard in reading, which fell from 72% in 2018 to 69% this summer. In maths, both boys and girls improved by 3% but girls remained slightly ahead at 79% to 78%.
The only bright spot for boys was in the proportion achieving the government’s higher standard in maths, with 29% hitting the grade compared with 25% of girls.
The latest Sats results are the continuation of trends seen for many years. In the UK, girls consistently outperform boys, with the exception of advanced maths-based subjects. In the most recent GCSE results girls showed improved performances, despite the introduction of more difficult exams.
The gap in performance between disadvantaged pupils and their classmates remains stubbornly wide, suggesting efforts to close the gap between the two groups have slowed or been ineffective.
Nick Gibb, the minister for school standards, says the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers has decreased over the last eight years. Photograph: Alastair Johnstone / SWNS.com/The Guardian
Some 51% of children from disadvantaged backgrounds achieved the expected standards in maths, reading and writing, the same proportion as in 2018, while the proportion of non-disadvantaged pupils hitting the standard rose to 71%. That leaves the gap between the two groups little changed for the last three years, with the DfE’s statisticians warning that the gap might widen slightly when the final figures for 2019 are published.
Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said children from disadvantaged families were the victims of a decade of austerity.
“Successive governments have failed to invest in those who need it the most, and now we see the result – a sustained long-term gap over many years between disadvantaged pupils and pupils from more affluent families,” he said.
“However, we need to be very careful of reading too much into small, year-on-year fluctuations in the results of a single cohort in a single subject. There is a long-standing gender gap when it comes to reading and writing, which is certainly a concern, and is something teachers are constantly attempting to tackle.”
Disadvantaged pupils are defined as those who have been registered for free school meals within the last six years, children looked after by a local authority or those who were previously in local authority care. In 2019 30% of pupils at the end of key stage 2 were classed as being disadvantaged.
Nick Gibb, the minister for school standards, said the gap had decreased noticeably over the last eight years. “The fact that the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers has significantly reduced since 2011 illustrates how the programme of reforms we’ve put in place since 2010 is helping to level the playing field,” he said.
There were substantial regional variations in the results, with pupils in London generally doing better than in other parts of England.
Only 53% of boys in Dudley, in the Midlands, reached the expected standards in the three key subjects, compared with 83% of girls in the wealthy borough of Richmond-upon-Thames. There were strong performances among girls in the London boroughs of Newham and Tower Hamlets, where 77% and 78% reached the expected standards.
The DfE’s figures showed little difference in attainment between different types of schools. Schools maintained by local authorities – around two-thirds of all state primaries in England – achieved 66% in the expected standards in reading, writing and maths, compared with 65% in academies and free schools.