23/08/2012 02:18 BST

GCSE Results: Gender Divide In Ambitions For The Future, Says JP Morgan

As teenagers prepare to pick up their GCSE results, a new survey suggests a gender divide still exists in their ambitions for the future.

It reveals that girls are more likely to aspire to be teachers or work in fashion, while boys want to work in IT or engineering.

Both sexes are keen on careers in healthcare, dreaming of working as doctors or nurses.

The poll, based on a survey of just over 500 14 to 16-year-olds, also reveals that boys are more keen than girls on the idea of running a company.

The survey, commissioned by JP Morgan Asset Management, asked teenagers which sector they would most like to work in for the majority of their careers.

The top three answers given by girls were healthcare (chosen by 22%), education (11%) and fashion, art and design (10%).

The top three for boys were IT (16%), engineering (12%) and healthcare (10%).

More than one in four (27%) of the youngsters questioned said they would like to run their own firm, the poll reveals.

Over one in five (22%) would like to be the boss of a company, with 26% of boys saying this is the level they would ultimately like to work at, compared with 20% of girls.

Keith Evins, head of UK marketing at JP Morgan Asset Management, said: "They are no doubt feeling nervous this morning, but the nation's GCSE students are still an ambitious bunch.

"It is fantastic that teenagers in Britain are aiming high and aspiring to emulate a Lord Sugar or a Bill Gates."

Around 600,000 teenagers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are waking up to their GCSE results today.

One expert has predicted that the pass rate will start to stall this year.

Professor Alan Smithers, of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said schools put a lot of effort into making sure pupils score at least five C grades, including English and maths, as they are judged on these results.

But Ofqual has told exam boards they will be asked to justify any results that are widely different to previous years, in a bid to tackle grade inflation and ensure results are comparable.

The regulator has also previously expressed concerns about science GCSEs, and as a result, exams in the subject have been toughed up.

"It's the first time it (new science GCSE) is being examined this year so we might expect to see a fall in various grades in science," Prof Smithers said.

"If you put all that together, I think the results this year will be similar to last year, with some improvement."

Last year 69.8% of GCSE entries gained at least a C grade, and 23.2% got an A or A*.

Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) education policy adviser Adrian Prandle said: "We hope thousands of students get the results they want on Thursday and can celebrate two years of hard work.

"However, ATL urges the Government not to blunder around chopping and changing exams in isolation from the curriculum and without taking account of all the evidence and research. It would be a dreadful mistake to return to a two-tier system with revamped O-levels and CSEs.

"The real issue is not whether one set of exams has more robust grades than another; it is that the whole exam system is not fit for purpose.

"It fails the majority of students - both those who get top GCSE grades and those who do not achieve any despite working hard - because the current system denies them the chance to acquire the full range of knowledge and skills they need for their future lives. It leaves many students bored and disengaged and demoralises others."

It was reported in June that Education Secretary Michael Gove was considering proposals to ditch GCSEs in favour of a return to O-level-style qualifications, with less able pupils taking simpler CSE-type exams.

The leaked plans resulted in an outcry that it would lead to a two-tier system and thousands of teenagers being branded as failures.

Gove later said he would like to see all students sit O-level-type exams at some point in their school career.

He has argued that a two-tier system already exists and radical changes are needed to make exams tougher and ensure that the UK keeps up with other nations.

At the weekend, Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said it is "morally wrong" to undermine teenagers' GCSE efforts with talk that the exams are too easy.

"I think we've got to be very careful with the message we send out about quality, it's potentially very dangerous to undermine confidence in the system," he said.

"The fact of the matter is children are working extremely hard and teachers are working extremely hard to get them through exams."

An observation published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) questions the purpose of GCSEs.

It says that England is "unusual" in having a school leaving exam at age 16.

"Most countries focus on exams when most young people in fact leave school at 17 or 18," it says.

"The system in England looks rather like a leftover from a time when the majority of young people did expect to leave school at 16.

"Now that the vast majority stay on past 16 to do further qualifications, there must be some question over the role of a set of exams which may signal to some that leaving at 16 is expected, particularly in the context of Government policy to raise the 'education participation age' to 18."

GCSEs are also used to hold schools to account for their performance, the paper says, and is one of the measures used by universities when making offers to students.

But it adds that other accountability measures could be used in league tables.

"It would also be odd to justify retaining GCSEs on the basis they are used for university admissions," the paper argues.

"Currently, the majority of children don't go to university and other reforms could improve the flow of information to admissions tutors, such as entrance exams or running the application process after A-level results have been published."

It concludes: "Perhaps an even more radical rethink of the role of GCSEs and the structure of the public examination system is called for if we are to ensure that these exams serve a valid purpose and young people are best served for the future."