Girls leave boys behind in 20 out of 22 Junior Cert papers

Boys still outnumber girls by six to one in technology subjects at the higher level

The research shows gender biases remain strong in subject choices. Photograph: Getty Images

The research shows gender biases remain strong in subject choices. Photograph: Getty Images


Girls outperformed boys in 20 out of 22 higher level subjects in the Junior Certificate but their participation in technology-related subjects remains low, exam figures show.

Boys outnumbered girls by six to one among higher level candidates in Material Technology, Technical Graphics and the standalone subject of Technology.

The latter, which blends the use of computers, design and maths, was taken by just 510 females at higher level this year, compared to 466 females 10 years ago.

In the same period, the number of males taking the subject at this level jumped from 1,507 to 2,342.

Slightly more males than females sat the Junior Cert this year – 30,309 to 29,213 – but fewer took Science at higher level – 21,271 to 21,384.

On the flip side, more females than males took higher level Maths – 16,456 to 16,076. Girls also performed marginally better, with 75 per cent getting an A, B or C compared to 74 per cent among boys.

The only two subjects in which boys did better were Metalwork and Environmental and Social Studies.

The figures shows gender biases remain strong in subject choices, with an 11-1 ratio of males to females doing Metalwork at higher level, and a 7-1 ratio of females to males doing Home Economics.

In the main however, girls tend to take more higher level papers, and generally perform better in them, as part of a long-running trend linked to the planned reform of the junior cycle.

Student disengagement

Studies by ESRI researchers Frances Ruane and Emer Smyth over the past decade have associated the Junior Cert with rising levels of student disengagement, particularly among “boys from lower socio-economic backgrounds and in lower streams in schools where streaming was practiced”.

The increasing demands placed on students by the Junior Cert “were also seen to contribute to student disengagement”, they argued, echoing concerns of many other educationalists.

Tackling the problem of disengagement by “working-class boys” has been cited by Minister for Education and Skills Jan O’Sullivan as a key reason for the junior cycle reforms.

“Unsurprisingly, this is the same cohort who are most likely to drop out of school before the Leaving Cert, and who face poorer prospects throughout the remainder of their lives,” she said in an address last November at the height of the teachers’ dispute.

“The current exam system is seen as fair. But that is measuring fairness as applied to the system, and not to the individual.”

The two unions representing secondary teachers are balloting this month on whether to accept the reforms, which would reduce the emphasis on state exams at the end of third year, and allow for new forms of practical and group learning.