Impact Goal Two

Narrow the gap in GCSE attainment at secondary school

The Gap

The Fair Education Alliance is committed to closing the attainment gap between secondary schools serving lower income pupils and those serving higher income pupils. Our goal is to close this gap by 44% by 2022. According to Alliance measures, this gap stands at 79 points. It has narrowed over the last three years from 104 points in 2011 (or by 24%); during the last year, this gap closed by 16 points. However, these figures should be interpreted with caution. The narrowing is very likely to be due to changes in assessment methods, hindering accurate comparisons.


The National Picture

In 2013/14, the attainment gap between schools in low income communities and those in high income communities decreased by 17.1%. This suggests that secondary schools serving low income communities have got better at raising the attainment of their pupils (subject to the caveat over changes in assessment methods). The analysis of primary school data has shown that pupils from high income backgrounds are more likely to enter secondary school with high prior attainment. This means that the difficulty in closing this gap is inextricably linked to prior attainment. Since 2014, the government has assessed progress (instead of attainment) across eight GCSE subjects, to reduce the tendency of some schools to focus on the ‘boundary grade’of a C and encourage them instead to push all pupils to the highest level they can reach across a range of subjects. The new grading system is more finely graded for the highest attainers (where there was one A* GCSE grade, there will now be a Grade 8 and a higher Grade 9). Conversely, the new system will measure progress at the bottom end of attainment with less precision (where there were two GCSE grades F and G, there will now only be one, Grade 1).


The Regional Picture

The attainment gap for all regions in England in 2013/14 is closing. The the biggest decrease was in the North East, where the gap in averagen capped point score closed by 33 points since last year and 40 points since 2012; this is equivalent to a grade C GCSE pass. This is promising, given that three out of the nine local authority areas where fewer than 50% of secondary school pupils are in a good or outstanding school are in the North East of England. The more affluent South East still has the second biggest gap across the country (123 points). The gap decreased the least in London, where it reduced by 7 points during the year. However, the gap in London was still the lowest overall, at 87 points in 2011/12 and 74 points in 2013/14; this is approximately equivalent to 2 GCSE C grade passes.


Closing the Gap

Both the national and regional pictures are showing more promising achievement trajectories for 16-year-olds who attend schools in low income communities. Demography does not determine destiny in every part of the country. A closer look at the regional picture shows that schools in some areas serve their poorest pupils better than others. Young people from poor families in London perform better at 16 than those anywhere else in the country. In 2014, almost 50% more young people from poor families in inner London achieved 5 A*-C GCSEs than in other regions of England. The Alliance has identified key areas where greater focus is needed during secondary education to close the attainment gap for young people from poor families and/or those attending schools in low income communities. These include developing quality teaching and learning across all secondary schools and developing leadership. These areas should also be considered alongside the themes identified across Impact Goal 3.