Leaving Cert: Girls outperform boys in vast majority of subjects

Maths one of just six subjects at higher level where boys perform better

 Ian Bethel, Ian McCrae and Fionnuala Moran, former 6th year students of Mount Temple Comprehensive school, Clontarf, after receiving their Leaving Certificate results. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Ian Bethel, Ian McCrae and Fionnuala Moran, former 6th year students of Mount Temple Comprehensive school, Clontarf, after receiving their Leaving Certificate results. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

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Girls outperformed boys in the vast majority of subjects, a gender analysis of this year’s Leaving Cert results shows.

In all, girls secured a higher proportion of honours – A, B or C grades – in 26 out of 32 subjects at higher level.

While girls studied science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects in fewer numbers, those who did performed as well if not better than their male peers.

Maths was one of just six subjects at higher level where boys performed better with 74 per cent getting an A, B or C, compared with 68 per cent of girls.

More boys opted for the higher paper too, accounting for just over 8,000 of the 15,000 candidates.

Applied maths

Three-quarters of applied maths students at higher level were boys, and 79 per cent of them scored an honour. Some 76 per cent of girls secured the same grades.

Other subjects in which boys outperformed girls included construction studies, where most boys secured an honour (79.4 per cent), followed closely by girls (78.4 per cent).

The subjects where boys secured more honours were ones with relatively few candidates, such as religious education, Latin and the combined subjects of physics and chemistry.

Figures show there are some stark differences in participation rates, indicating that gender stereotyping is slow to shift. Of almost 4,500 students who took engineering at higher level, just over 200 were girls.

Similarly, just over 6,400 boys sat the construction studies paper, compared to just over 600 girls.

By contrast, almost twice as many girls (about 5,500) sat the higher-level art exam as boys (just under 2,300).

Girls were also more likely to study languages such as Irish, French and Spanish. In all cases, just over 60 per of candidates in these exams were girls.

Biology also attracted more girls. They accounted for 62 per cent of candidates.

‘Hugely beneficial’

In design and communication graphics just 12 per cent of higher level candidates were girls. They managed to outperform boys with an honours rate of 89 per cent to 82 per cent.

Overall, there has been a modest boost in the number of girls taking on Stem subjects. Policy-makers and industry leaders have tried to encourage more girls to take on subjects traditionally favoured by boys.

Some 28 per cent of students sat the higher-level maths paper this year, up on 2015. The number sitting the higher-level physics, chemistry, applied maths , business and economics papers also increased. These are considered key subjects in pursuing a career in technology.

Bob Savage, managing director of EMC, an IT multinational that employs 3,000 people in Ireland, said the figures showed the secondary school system was succeeding in placing emphasis on Stem subjects.

“The increase and the results achieved are encouraging and hugely beneficial as Ireland’s information technology sector – a high-growth sector – continues to grow and attract inward investment,” he said. “However, we need to be mindful of the increase in failure rates in ordinary maths and work to ensure this trend does not continue.”

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