Question of the Week: Are boys doing better than girls in school?

Boys dominate feeder school lists for third level, but girls still perform best

Annual feeder schools results published this week show how many students progressed from individual second-level schools to higher education.

The greater the proportion of students in a school that progress to third level, the higher the ranking. One unexpected result was that boys’ schools dominated the top performers.

In the top 50 schools, for example, boys’ schools accounted for 21 of the places compared to 13 for girls’ schools. The remaining 16 were mixed or co-educational schools.

The school which topped the overall rankings was Coláiste Eoin, an all-boys gaelscoil in Stillorgan, Co Dublin.


Similarly, boys' schools, mostly fee-paying, dominated the top spots for schools sending students to high-points courses. These include courses offered in universities, the Dublin Institute of Technology, teacher training colleges and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

It would be a mistake, however, to assume boys are suddenly outperforming girls. Academically, girls are still streaking ahead in the Leaving Cert and getting better results in the vast majority of subjects except for maths.

The feeder schools results are based on progression to third level, rather than drilling down into the nitty girtty of academic performance. Part of the explanation for the results may lie in the growth of courses at third level in areas like science and engineering, which tend to attract more boys than girls. For example, boys are much more dominant at institutes of technology. Almost 60 per cent of DIT’s first-year students this year were boys.

Mixed evidence

Some might assume these figures also indicate that boys fare better in single-sex rather than mixed schools. In reality, the evidence is mixed and highly disputed. An ESRI study found little consensus on whether sex-segregation led to better outcomes. There is more reliable evidence that mixed schools are better socially for both girls and boys.

A major US study in recent years found little scientific basis for separating the sexes based on the structure of the male and female brains.

The fact that girls outperform boys is not limited to Ireland. The Programme for International Student Assessment surveys 15-year- old students across 70 economies every three years to evaluate education systems worldwide. It, too, has consistently found that girls outperform boys.

Research has thrown up a number of reasons: girls read more; they spend more time on homework, and less time online and playing computers games; boys think they’re too cool for school, whereas girls are generally more motivated to do well.CARL O’BRIEN