Educational attainment – UK Government assessment
Measuring changes in attainment is difficult due to GCSE and A level reforms over recent years. However, GCSE trends since 2016–17 appear broadly stable prior to the coronavirus pandemic, while average points scores in A levels increased each year since 2016. Attainment gaps persist for those from certain protected characteristic and socio-economic groups. There is no consensus on progress made in narrowing these gaps, and there are concerns that the impact of the pandemic will exacerbate them. Cuts in school spending per pupil have been greater in England than in Wales and Scotland.
- Measures aimed at addressing the attainment gap affecting children from disadvantaged backgrounds have had mixed results, with improvements identified only in some parts of England.
- Between 2009–10 and 2019–20, cuts in school spending per pupil have been greater in England than in Wales and Scotland. The UK Government’s 2019 announcement on school funding will only restore, in real terms, school spending per pupil in 2022 –23 to the levels of 2009–10. Recent funding increases have also been criticised for failing to ‘level up’ educational attainment in England’s poorer regions.
- The percentage of pupils achieving grade 5 or above, or grade 4/C or above, in both English and Maths at GCSE was broadly stable between 2017 and 2019. At A level, attainment increased between 2017 and 2019.
- The persistence of attainment gaps has been linked to numerous factors, including discriminatory treatment of children with certain protected characteristics and socio-economic backgrounds, and the narrower curriculum available in deprived schools.
- The Education Policy Institute report that the attainment gap has started to widen between pupils from disadvantaged socio-economic groups and others. At early years and secondary levels, the gap increased in 2018 and remained at these higher levels in 2019. In 2019, the attainment gap widened at primary level for the first time in over a decade.
- The gap between disadvantaged pupils and others, measured using the disadvantage attainment gap index, was broadly stable between 2016 and 2019.
- Children from certain ethnic minorities have lower attainment rates in secondary school than others. Since 2016, the secondary attainment gap has widened most for Black Caribbean pupils, White and Black Caribbean pupils, and pupils from Any Other Black Background, relative to their White British peers. Gypsy/Roma and Traveller of Irish heritage pupils continue to have the lowest levels of attainment among any ethnic group.
- Children with special educational needs (SEN) have significantly lower attainment than children without SEN at all school stages. Progress in closing this gap has slowed since 2016.
- Girls continue to perform better than boys at key stage 4; evidence shows that this gap widened at key stage 2 between 2018 and 2019.
- There are concerns that the shift to online learning during the pandemic, inequalities in the home-learning environment and replacement of exams by teacher assessment will disproportionately impact those children who already face growing inequalities around attainment.
- The Government’s recovery plan for schools is considered modest compared with the loss of learning suffered as a result of the pandemic, although some further funding has since been announced.
- A report from Ofqual found that, although the system used to award grades in 2020 led to grade inflation compared with 2019, it did not systematically disadvantage candidates with protected characteristics or those from lower socio-economic groups.
Read more about the UK and Welsh Governments’ actions on educational attainment.