IN THE midst of the grade-inflation furore over this year’s GCSE and A-Level results, one intriguing fact got less attention than it might otherwise have done: girls outperformed boys by record margins.

It’s a trend that stretches back over 40 years but continues to grow, year by year.

At GCSE, 30 per cent of girls were awarded a grade 7 or above, compared to 24 per cent of boys; at A-level, 46.4 per cent of girls achieved an A or A* as opposed to 41.7 per cent of their male counterparts.

For the first time, girls outperformed boys in maths: the only subjects boys did better in were statistics and physics, and only by a small margin.

Where girls outperformed boys, the contrast was often striking – a 32.8 per cent difference in engineering, for example.

This success led to one leading education expert, Professor Alan Smithers, to conclude that, “such is the extent of girls’ lead over boys that one wonders if they just might be cleverer.”

If that is true, society has a strange way of rewarding this. I’m currently reading The Authority Gap, an eye-opening new book by Mary Ann Sieghart, which dissects in detail the different attitudes that men and women face in work and everyday life.

Sieghart catalogues the unseen biases which leave women taken less seriously than men time and again and suggests some of the ways it could be tackled.

There’s too much in the book to distil properly here, but let me give a few examples from an area I know about myself: publishing. Sieghart’s book begins with the story of Catherine Nichols, an unpublished author trying to find a literary agent for her novel.

She wrote to 50 agents and received just two responses. Nichols then sent the manuscript out to another fifty agents, except this time under a male name.

This time she got seventeen positive replies: “I was an eight and a half times better writer under a male name,” she noted.

When I was a publisher, it was received wisdom that women would read novels aimed at men, but men wouldn’t read novels aimed at women. Sieghart’s research fleshes this out into hard statistics.

For the top ten bestselling male authors, the readership split was 55 per cent men and 45 per cent women; for the top ten bestselling female authors, 81 per cent of the readers were female and just 19 per cent male.

“Men just aren’t interested in reading our literature,” Sieghart quotes Bernardine Evaristo. “It seems to me that we’re seen as less important and more insignificant.”

Is literature one link between the gender authority gap as adults and the education gap as children? I don’t know: but in both cases, persuading men and boys to read more widely would seem a positive start.