NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Australian Boys' Declining School Performance

January 10, 2000

The educational performance of Australian boys has declined over the past decade, according to various measures. At the same time, girls' performance has improved in some ways. Unfortunately, existing research doesn't explain why this trend is occurring, according to a report from Center for Independent Studies.

  • Australian girls have extended their schooling and are now 11 percent more likely than boys to complete Year 12 of their education.
  • At the same time, girls' overall performance has improved markedly; for example, in the 1998 New South Wales Higher School Certificate (HSC), the average mark for girls was higher than for boys in 64 out of 70 subjects.
  • In the few subjects where boys did better, their average scores exceeded the girls' by no more than 1 percent; but for the subjects in which the girls' average was higher, the difference was up to 11 percent.
  • In 1981, the female average New South Wales Tertiary Entrance Score (TES) exceeded the male average by just 0.6 marks; but in 1996, the girls beat the boys by 19.4 marks.

Boys' scores tend to be clustered at the top and bottom, forming a saucer-shaped curve, while more girls' scores are closer to the middle, forming the expected bell-shaped curve. These patterns are consistently found in distributions of boys' and girls' performance in all subjects, as well as in intelligence tests. As boys' average performance has declined, more boys are clustered at the lower end of the scale.

The boy-girl gap persists at all socio-economic levels. Some experts blame the decline in boys' performance on increasing family breakdown, leading to a higher incidence of homes without fathers present; but why this affects boys more than girls has not been established.

Source: Jennifer Buckingham, "The Puzzle of Boys' Educational Decline" a Review of the Evidence," Issue Analysis No. 9, November 18, 1999, Center for Independent Studies, P.O. Box 92, St. Leonards NSW 2065, Australia (02) 9438-4377.


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