Girls are continuing to outperform boys in most A-level subjects, but male pupils are still achieving more A* grades overall.
However, the gap between the very top-performing boys and girls has narrowed for the first time in five years.
This year’s results show 8.5 per cent of male students taking A-levels attained A*, while for girls the proportion was 7.7 per cent. The gap between the two sexes in terms of A*s has narrowed from 0.8 per cent from 0.9 per cent this year.
The gender gap is part of a longstanding trend that experts believe may stem from the tendency for male pupils to cluster in subjects such as Maths where the top grade is more frequently awarded.
Boys still outperform girls in Maths – a trend that could be associated with the fact that male sixth formers often take Physics coupled with Maths, a combination that could push them ahead.
Exactly why female pupils do better than their male counterparts in all grade levels other than A* has not been fully explained but may be connected to girls’ tendency to achieve higher coursework results.
Official results for England also show a continuation of trends whereby performance in areas of the South East exceeds that in all other regions, while in the North East pupils achieve the fewest A*s, As and Bs of all regions.
A-level outcomes overall have been described as “flat”, with little change on last year. In total 25.8 per cent of all pupils achieved grades A*-A. This is a slight decrease compared with 2015, but it has been described as not statistically significant.
It is, however, the fifth successive year in which there has been a decrease. While entries in language subjects including French, German and Spanish have continued to drop, linguists can take heart from the fact that mote A*s are now being awarded in these subjects, which have in the past been relatively harshly graded.
For German, the number of students achieving the topmost grade rose significantly, by 1.3 per cent.
Malcolm Trobe from Association of School and College Leaders said: “If you are aiming for a high quality university, but at the stage of choosing your A-levels don’t necessarily want to be a linguist and you know you are going to need three As or two A*s and an A to get in and you know languages are harshly graded, you are not going to pick languages because you are reducing your chances of getting an A or an A*.”
‘Successful decoupling’ Maths remains the most popular subject, followed by English. There has been a rise in interest in Economics.
Sharon Hague, senior vice president of Pearson, said: “There has been a growth in the number of girls taking it, and we’ve also got them outperforming boys in that particular subject.”
The number of entries for A-levels overall has decreased by 1.7 per cent, while AS entries were down 13.7 per cent. The results follow a separating of AS levels from A-levels.
Michael Turner, the Joint Council for Qualifications’ director general, said today’s results showed “AS has been successfully decoupled” and that there was “stability in the outcomes”.
He said: “There has been a safe delivery of the new, reformed qualifications, which is a good thing. Overall, outcomes are relatively unchanged.
“However, the shift in entry patterns and the introduction of new specifications in reformed subjects could lead to a greater volatility in year-on-year results in some schools and colleges than is experienced in a typical year.”
Admissions service UCAS said 424,000 students had been accepted to UK universities as of this morning – the highest number ever recorded on A-level results day. There are 201,000 UK 18-year-old applicants placed.
There are also more acceptances from older age groups, with acceptances for those aged 25 or older from the UK up 8 per cent. Applicants were able to log onto the UCAS website from 8am this morning to see if they had been accepted.
Mary Curnock Cook, UCAS Chief Executive, said: “This is a big day for hundreds of thousands of young people who have chosen to kick start their adult life with higher education – well done to all of them.
“I’m particularly pleased to see the first small signs of improvement for young men, although they are still too far behind.”
Students can make a formal choice via clearing – the system by which universities fill places they still have on their courses – from 3pm today.