Boys’ Achievement: A Synthesis of the Data

Publication Details

The focus of this report is on boys’ participation, engagement and achievement at different levels of education.

Author(s): Learning Policy Frameworks, Ministry of Education

Date Published: December 2007

This chapter explores gender differences in NCEA qualification attainment.  It also looks at subject participation and attainment1 data dating back to 1993.

Key Findings

  • The percentage of students, both male and female, gaining NCEA qualifications has increased from 2004 to 2006.
  • In years 11 and 12 females are 10 percentage points more likely to gain an NCEA level 1 and 2 qualification respectively.  This gender difference increases to 13 percentage points in year 13 for NCEA level 3.
  • Female students are more likely than males to gain University Entrance.  The proportion of Māori and Pasifika students, especially males, gaining University Entrance is particularly concerning.
  • Scholarship attainment is similar for males and females.  Males gain 58 % of their total scholarships in science and mathematics.
  • Gender differences in the participation rates of students in English, mathematics and science are greater in year 12 and 13 than year 11 qualifications. 
  • Since 1993 the range of attainment gender differences for mathematics (from 3 percentage points in favour of males to 3 percentage points in females favour) and science (3 percentage points in favour of females) are much smaller than that found for English (where it is in the range 14 to 19 percentage points in favour of females).

6.1 NCEA Qualifications

The rate of NCEA qualification attainment by male and female students is calculated based on the number of NCEA qualifications gained and the numbers of students reported on the July school roll returns.2  Figures 15 to 17 show the proportions of male and female students achieving NCEA qualifications in 2006 by year of schooling and gender for NCEA levels 1 to 3 respectively.

Year 11 is the typical year for students to gain NCEA level 1, year 12 for NCEA level 2 and year 13 for NCEA level 3 qualifications.  The percentage of students, both male and female, gaining NCEA qualifications has increased from 2004 to 2006.  However, there is a 10 percentage point difference between males and females gaining NCEA level 1 in year 11, and NCEA level 2 in year 12.  At NCEA level 3 this gender difference increases to 13 percentage points in favour of females.  These gender differences have been evident each year since the introduction of NCEA. 

Figure 15. Percentage of students achieving NCEA level 1 in 2006 by gender and year of schooling

Image of Figure 15. Percentage of students achieving NCEA level 1 in 2006 by gender and year of schooling.

Figure 16. Percentage of students achieving NCEA level 2 in 2006 by gender and year of schooling

Image of Figure 16. Percentage of students achieving NCEA level 2 in 2006 by gender and year of schooling.

Figure 17. Percentage of students achieving NCEA level 3 in 2006 by gender and year of schooling

Image of Figure 17. Percentage of students achieving NCEA level 3 in 2006 by gender and year of schooling.

Even though slightly higher proportions of male students than female students gain NCEA qualifications in the non-typical years for gaining these qualifications they are not in great enough proportions to result in gender parity for this qualification.  Thus, higher numbers of female students than male students gain NCEA qualifications and higher numbers of male students than female students leave school with no formal qualification.

Differences in qualification attainment are also observed between ethnic groups, with Māori and Pasifika students having lower attainment rates than their Asian and NZ European counterparts.  Within each ethnic grouping gender differences are still observed.

6.2 University Entrance

A University Entrance qualification enables students to go directly into further tertiary study at degree level.  Year 13 is the typical year for students to gain University Entrance and Table 3 shows the percentages of the male and female students on the year 13 school rolls gaining University Entrance from 2004 to 2006.  From 2004 to 2006 there has been an increase in the percentage of males and females gaining University Entrance, but across all years around a 10 to 11 percentage point gender gap has existed in favour of female students.3  The percentage of Māori and Pasifika students gaining University Entrance is very low and particularly concerning.4

Table 3. The percentage of year 13 students gaining university entrance in 2004, 2005 and 2006 by gender

Year

Male

Female

Difference

2004

40.1

50.6

10.5

2005

41.7

51.4

9.7

2006

43.4

54.3

10.9

6.3 Scholarship

Scholarship is an external examination for top secondary students.  Candidates usually enter in year 13 and scholarship examines course material related to level 3 standards in a limited number of subjects.  The intention is that three per cent of the cohort will be awarded scholarship in each subject that is three per cent of the number of students studying that subject in year 13 at level 3 for 14 or more credits – as long as they meet the standard.

In 2006, 1,502 males and 1,426 females gained scholarships at either scholarship or outstanding level, compared to 1,395 males and 1,367 females in 2005.  Scholarship assesses the elite students at NCEA level 3 and at this top level no gender disparity exists.  The reduction in gender disparity at scholarship level is likely to reflect students’ self-selection and interest in the standards and learning areas they are studying.

The number of students achieving scholarships (at scholarship and outstanding level) across the different learning areas is shown in Figure 18 for the 2006 results.  A higher number of females than males gain scholarships across all subject areas except mathematics and science.  In mathematics and science the number of males receiving scholarship is significantly higher than the number of females receiving scholarships.  For males, 58 % of the total number of scholarships obtained is in mathematics and science, for females there is a more equal spread across all learning areas.

Figure 18. Total number of students achieving scholarships by learning area and gender in 2006

Image of Figure 18. Total number of students achieving scholarships by learning area and gender in 2006.

 

6.4. Subject Participation and Attainment

The New Zealand school qualification system has changed over the years, but English, mathematics and science tend to be classed as the three core subject areas and will be the focus of this section.  The participation and attainment in these three subject areas in NCEA and historically in School Certificate examinations show some enduring and changing attainment patterns.

6.4.1 English

Figure 19 shows the participation and attainment rates of candidates in year 11 English qualifications from 1993 to 2006.5  In all years from 1993 to 2006, higher proportions of females have participated in English School Certificate and subsequently NCEA.  The participation gender gap varied from five to seven percentage points during School Certificate but since the introduction of NCEA the participation gender gap has decreased from five percentage points in 2004 to three percentage points in 2006.

Figure 19.  Participation and qualification attainment in English in year 11, 1993-2006

Image of Figure 19. Participation and qualification attainment in English in year 11, 1993-2006.

Even though gender disparities in English participation rates have reduced, there are still large gender differences in attainment rates.  School Certificate results from 1993 to 2001 show gender differences of between 14 to 19 percentage points in favour of females.  In general the gender difference decreased over this period due to a slight increase in the attainment rate of males.  Since the full introduction of NCEA, English attainment rates in year 11 have increased for males and females.  Females still have higher attainment rates than males, but from 2004 to 2006 this gender gap has decreased from 16 to 14 percentage points.

Figure 20 shows the participation and attainment rates in English at NCEA levels 1 to 3 by gender in 2006.  The participation of males in English is lower than females at each NCEA level and the gender gap increases with increasing level.  Females are more likely to attain at least 14 credits in English than males and this gender gap stays relatively steady at around 14 percentage points at each NCEA level.

6.4.2 Mathematics

The pattern of male and female participation and attainment in mathematics School Certificate/NCEA is very different from English as shown in Figure 21.  Participation rates in School Certificate mathematics between 1993 and 2001 were very similar for males and females.  In general rates for females were slightly higher but the difference never exceeded one percentage point over this time period.  Gender differences in participation rates in NCEA mathematics are also small, and have decreased from two to one percentage points in favour of females.

Figure 20.  Participation and attainment in English at NCEA levels 1 to 3 in 2006

Image of Figure 20. Participation and attainment in English at NCEA levels 1 to 3 in 2006.

 
Figure 21.  Participation and qualification attainment in mathematics in year 11, 1993-2006

Image of Figure 21. Participation and qualification attainment in mathematics in year 11, 1993-2006.


In School Certificate males performed better than females in mathematics, an average advantage of two percentage points between 1993 and 2001.  This reached a peak of three percentage points in favour of males in 1997.  However, since the full introduction of NCEA, females perform better than males in mathematics.  This advantage to females has decreased from three to two percentage points between 2004 and 2006.  In 2006, mathematics has the highest attainment rates for both females and males across the three main subject areas.

Figure 22 shows the participation and attainment rates in mathematics at NCEA levels 1 to 3 by gender in 2006.  Participation rates for both males and females decrease with increasing NCEA level.  The participation of males in mathematics is slightly lower than females at NCEA level 1, but at level 2 males are more likely to participate and the over-representation of males increases further at level 3.  In fact, at level 3 males are 10 percentage points more likely to participate in mathematics than females.  However, at each level, higher proportions of females attain at least 14 credits in mathematics.  The gender gap in favour of females also increases from two to six percentage points from NCEA level 1 to 3.

Figure 22.  Participation and attainment in mathematics at NCEA levels 1 to 3 in 2006

Image of Figure 22. Participation and attainment in mathematics at NCEA levels 1 to 3 in 2006.

 

6.4.3 Science

In year 11, science tends to be classed as one combined subject but the separate sciences are also available.  The participation in the separate sciences in year 11 tends to be relatively low.  Biology is the most popular science amongst females and Physics is most popular amongst males.  Chemistry was more popular amongst males during School Certificate; however, there is no gender difference at NCEA.  Performance in the separate sciences is variable over this time period due to the small numbers involved.

From 1993 to 2006 higher proportions of females have participated in combined science (Figure 23).  The gender gap during School Certificate qualifications from 1993-2001 was between 0.5 and 4 percentage points.  The largest gender gap of 4 percentage points was observed in 1997 but after this time a gradual decrease in the participation gender gap was observed.  Once the NCEA was introduced females were still more likely to participate in science than males, a gender gap of around three percentage points that has remained relatively steady from 2004 to 2006.

Figure 23.  Participation and qualification attainment in science in year 11, 1993-2006

Image of Figure 23. Participation and qualification attainment in science in year 11, 1993-2006.

 

Females are found to perform better in science than males but this gap is small.  Other than the gender gap observed in 1993 (of 6 percentage points) it has remained around two to three percentage points in favour of girls.  This is true for year 11 School Certificate and NCEA.  Even though females performed better than males in science, the lowest attainment rate for females is in science across the three subject areas.

Figure 24 shows the participation and attainment rates in science6 at NCEA levels 1 to 3 by gender in 2006.  Participation rates for both males and females decreases with increasing NCEA level.  Even though there is not much difference in the participation rates between levels 2 and 3, compared to English and mathematics there is a large decrease in science participation after year 11.  Gender differences in total science participation rates is small, with slightly higher participation of females at level 1, this slight advantage however, changes to males at levels 2 and 3.  At each level, higher proportions of females attain at least 14 credits in science.  This gender difference is small but increases from two to five percentage points from NCEA level 1 to 3.

Gender differences are small when looking at the total participation and attainment rates in the sciences.  However, this hides some apparent differences between the individual sciences.  At NCEA levels 2 and 3, the sciences tend to be taught as individual subject areas, and Figure 25 shows the participation and attainment rates in biology, chemistry and physics at NCEA level 2 and 3 in 2006.7  Much higher proportions of females participate in biology, whereas in physics much higher proportions of males participate.  In chemistry the difference is much smaller, but there is a slight advantage to girls.  Gender differences in attainment rates are small for the individual sciences, but females do out perform males.

Figure 24.  Participation and attainment in science at NCEA levels 1 to 3 in 2006

Image of Figure 24. Participation and attainment in science at NCEA levels 1 to 3 in 2006.

 
Figure 25.  Participation and attainment in biology, chemistry and physics at NCEA levels 2 and 3 in 2006

Image of Figure 25. Participation and attainment in biology, chemistry and physics at NCEA levels 2 and 3 in 2006.

 Footnotes 

  1. Attainment in a School Certificate subject refers to results at grades A, B and C.  Attainment in a subject at NCEA refers to gaining at least 14 credits in that subject at a typical level or higher.
  2. Ministry of Education data.
  3. The percentage point gender difference is also about 11 percentage points when compared to that cohorts  year 9 school roll.
  4. C. Harkess; H. Wong; M. Parkin. (2007). Senior Secondary Student Achievement Factsheet 2004-2006.
  5. Data from 1993-2001 refers to School Certificate (those gaining grades A, B or C) and from 2004-2006 this refers to 14 credits or more at a typical NCEA level (NCEA level 1) or higher.  Due to changes in the qualification system, data is unavailable for 2002 and 2003.
  6. This is the combined totals of all the sciences (agricultural and horticultural science, biology, chemistry, physics and science (Core)).
  7. Agricultural and horticultural science is not shown as at NCEA level 2 and 3 as participation rates are small at around two percent.