Mind the gap: 2015

Deeper analysis of last week’s 2013/14 GCSE results show the attainment gap between pupils on free school meals and their peers has widened for a successive year.

If the current trend continues we would see a return to a wider attainment gap than before the coalition introduced the Pupil Premium within just two years.

The latest figures show:

– The national attainment gap widened by a further 0.3% in 2013/14, standing now at 27.0%.
– London continues to prop up national figures: when London schools are excluded from the latest data, the gap jumps to 29.5% – 2.5% points above the national average.
– More than half of local authorities (78 out of 152 – 51.3%) saw an increase their attainment gap last year.
– 67 out of 152 local authorities (44.1%) have a larger attainment gap now than before the Pupil Premium was introduced in 2011.

So another year on for the Pupil Premium and more spending and resources are still not doing the business.

It is important to note that changes to examinations – notably retakes not being included in the figures, and a number of GCSE subject equivalents being discontinued – are likely to have an impact. But they can’t fully explain the failure to get the direction of travel right for successive years.

It’s doubly concerning that, despite having the narrowest gaps overall, this year’s figures show that gaps in London are widening, and in some boroughs at a faster rate than the rest of the country:

– Two thirds of London local authorities (21 out of 33, 63%) saw an increase in their attainment gap last year.
– 21 out of 33 (60%) have seen an increase since Pupil Premium introduced in 2011.
– The size of the London skew (ie the extent to which it props up the national figures) has declined for two successive years, down from 2.9% in 2011/12, to 2.5% in 2013/14.
– 9 out of the 20 LAs with the biggest increases in their attainment gap last year were in London.

It’s important to remember London’s baseline success here – the attainment gap in London is still significantly narrow than the rest of the country and London schools continue to hold important lessons for the rest of the country. But this should keep policymakers on their toes.

There should be a greater focus on learning from parts of the country where the gap is closing, and attempts to find other ways to improve collaboration and engagement in our classrooms, to prevent a repeat performance twelve months from now.

Updated 30th March, 2015

Nick Clegg was asked about this research in his press conference this morning. He argued that the attainment gap attainment is closing ‘for the first time in many, many years’. This depends on the measure used. Our analysis, described above, used the traditional method for calculating the gap: the proportion of pupils achieving 5 A*-C. On this measure the gap has widened rather than narrowed. However, the Deputy Prime Minister was referring to a new measure, adopted by the government this year. This measure is the Attainment Gap Index, which draws on the full distribution of grades, rather than the traditional 5A*-C measure. On this measure, the attainment gap appears to have narrowed overall. There are merits to both methodologies – the traditional measure, for example, continues to be meaningful to employers – and they should be seen as complementary, rather than in competition, to understanding this issue. We welcome views on how best to present and update the analysis when next year’s results are published, so please do get in touch.