Educational attainment – UK Government assessment
In England, measuring changes in attainment is difficult due to GCSE and A level reforms over recent years and the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The UK Government has made a number of commitments to improve attainment, but so far without concrete action to address gaps that persist for those from certain protected characteristic and socio-economic groups.
- Research commissioned by the Department for Education shows that, on average, pupils remain behind compared to pre-pandemic learning levels. Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, primarily those eligible for free school meals at some point in the previous six years, have experienced greater learning losses.
- The UK Government’s commitment to improve attainment in more deprived parts of the country, through its Levelling Up plans and the related schools white paper, is welcome. However, there has been criticism of the lack of commitment to a significant reduction in the disadvantage gap between the poorest pupils and their peers.
- Despite announcements of further funding, the UK Government’s recovery plan for schools is still considered modest compared with the loss of learning experienced because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Ofqual reported in both 2021 and 2020 that the system used to award grades in these years did not systematically disadvantage candidates with protected characteristics or those from lower socio-economic groups. However, some evidence suggests that the attainment gap for students with severe special educational needs did rise with teacher assessed grades.
- In 2021, for pupils in England eligible for free school meals, the average attainment score was 39.1 at GSCE level, compared with 53.6 for non-eligible pupils.
- Chinese pupils, Indian pupils and other Asian pupils who are not Bangladeshi or Pakistani had the highest level of attainment levels at key stage 4 in 2020/21: 83.8%, 72.4% and 67.1% achieved grade 5 or above in English and Maths GCSEs respectively.
- Gypsy and Roma pupils, Irish traveller pupils and Carribean pupils had the lowest key stage 4 attainment levels in 2021/21: 9.1%, 21.1% and 35.9% achieved grade 5 or above in English and Maths GCSEs respectively.
- Girls continue to perform better than boys at GCSE level.
- The Education Policy Institute (EPI) reported in 2020 that the attainment gap had started to widen between pupils from disadvantaged socio-economic groups and others.
- Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the percentage of pupils achieving grade 5 or above, or grade 4/C or above, in both English and mathematics at GCSE was broadly stable between 2017 and 2019. At A level, attainment increased between 2017 and 2019.
Read more about the UK and Welsh Governments’ actions on educational attainment.