Gender and Subject Choice – Section 3A

Russell Haggar

Site Owner

Section 3A


Gender  and GCSE Subject Choice and Results in Specific Subjects 2012 -22

Table 1  The 10 most popular subjects and relative popularity 2012-2022

Table 2 Languages and Sciences

Table 3  Examples of very significant gender differences in subject choice often in subjects with relatively few entries


  • Table 1: The 10 Most Popular Subjects : Relative Popularity and Gender Differences in Attainment of an A*=C  Grade [ or a 9-4 Grade in English, English Literature and Mathematics in 2017].
  • Between 2012 and 2015  the  first numbers indicating  rank order show that there have been some minor changes in the rank ordering of different subjects with particularly noticeable decline in the ranking of Design and Technology. The final columns shows the actual rank orderings in 2016 and2017.
  • The first percentages indicate whether majority of entrants were male or females Notice that in several of these subjects gender differences in subject entry are small].
  • The second percentages in blue and red indicate the differences between the percentage of female entrants and the percentage of male entrants securing grades A*-C
  • In 2017 the vast majority of UK candidates in GCSE English Language, English Literature and Mathematics sat examinations which were graded 9-4 but significant minorities did take examinations graded A*-C..
  • In 2018 and 2019 all GCSE subjects were graded 9-4 and the [mainly red] and blue entries in the following table for 2018 and 2019 refer to the differences in the percentages of male and female entrants gaining grades 9-4


Note that in 2018 very large numbers of students had switched from Science and Additional Science to the  Science Double Award qualification which which was now 4th in the subject entry list  but highest in the subject pass rate list since a single pass equated to 2 GCSE passes.. This combined with the significant decline in the popularity of Design and Technology meant that Biology and Chemistry entered the list of the top 10 subject entries for the first time. Double Science was the highest entry subject in 2019.

  • Notice that female entrants  outperformed male entrants in all major subjects apart from Mathematics[2012-2019]  and Physics [in 2012 and 2018and 2019]  which is shown in the following table] ; that male and female performances were similar in the Science subjects but that Females outperformed males significantly in several Arts and Humanities subjects :e.g. Art and Design, English, English Literature , Design and Technology and Religious Studies. [Note also that changes between 2012 and 2019  in the differences between the percentage of female entrants and the percentage of male entrants securing grades A*-C. male are small.]
  • Notice that females also out performed males quite significantly in French, German and Spanish [See following table]
  • In all other subjects females out-performed males apart from the following
    1. Males outperformed females in Economics in 2012
    2. Males outperformed females in Other Technology in 2012 and 2113
    3. Males outperformed females in Other Sciences in 2012, 2013 and 2014 and 2015
  • Between 2002 and 2008 females narrowly outperformed males in GCSE Mathematics but since males have caught up and marginally overtaken females .It has been suggested that the ending of GCSE Mathematics coursework cohorts helps to explain why males have subsequently narrowly outperformed females in GCSE Mathematics since 2008 although this is certainly a matter of some controversy. Click here and scroll down for Guardian data on recent gender differences in attainment in GCSE Mathematics. In 2017 it has been claimed that the switch to an End Course Examination may help to explain the relevant improvement in male results but this is open to question.
  • . Following the introduction of the EBACC Schools generally tried to ensure that greater numbers of students would be entered for EBacc subjects.
  • Click here and scroll  to Page 22 for further information on EBacc entries and click here and then on Key stage 4 Entry and Achievements by Pupil Characteristics and scroll down  for Gender and EBacc Entry  2020



The 10 Most Popular GCSE Subjects 2020-2023

[First figures indicate majority gender entry%; Second figures indicate %gender differences in GCSE grades9-4 attainment]


Table 2.Languages and Sciences

In the following table the black figures illustrate the male or female majority of subject entrants and the red or blue figures illustrate the gender gap in attainment of A*-C/9-4 GCSE pass grades. Gender difference in entry are small for the Sciences but greater for French and Spanish although the gender difference in entry for German is rather smaller. Females out performed males in every subject in every year with the exception of Physics in 2012 , 2018 and 2019

It should be noted that traditionally larger percentages of entrants for individual Sciences have been males but that these gender gaps have narrowed appreciably since 2009 and by 2014 became  very small. Since 2015 female entrants have exceeded male entrants in Biology  and this was also the case in Chemistry in 2017. Male entrants continue to narrowly exceed female entrants in Physics. Note that Female pass  rates have narrowly exceeded Male pass rates in Biology, Chemistry and Physics in every year with the exception of Physics in 2012, 2018 and 2019.

[First figures indicate majority gender entry%; Second figures indicate % gender differences in GCSE grades 9-4 attainment]



More recently in 2020 and 2021 females were proportionately more likely than males to enter for GCSE Biology and Chemistry [in 2021 but not in 2020]  but proportionately less likely than males to enter for GCSE Physics. In each case the gender differences in entry rates were very small. Females were proportionately more likely than males to gain grades 9-4 but the gender differences in results were very small

In 2020 and 2021 females were proportionately more likely than males to enter for GCSE French, German and Spanish and quite significantly more likely than males to gain grades 9-4

None of the following subjects appear in the top ten most favoured subjects for males or females but although overall numbers of students entered for these subjects [other than PE, Business Studies and Drama and , increasingly, ICT and  Computing]]  were relatively small [and very small in the cases of Construction and Technology [excluding D and T]  the  male and female percentage subject entrant majorities were sometimes large and in several cases might be said to reflect substantial gender differences in perceptions of appropriate future employment. Gender differences in subject choice in these subjects have changed little in recent years as can be shown via the following table

Table 3  Examples of very significant gender differences in GCSE subject choice often in subjects with relatively few entries

Students may click here to access the 2023 data. Click on GCSE and Other Results Information and then scroll down to GCSE Additional Charts Summer 2022


Students might wish to summarise the key conclusions from the above data on recent GCSE pass rates and gender differences in subject choices.


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