Examining the gap in school attainment levels (part 1)

Children claiming free school meals in Warwickshire are only half as likely as other pupils to gain good GSCEs.

This is not a new finding; we have considered this gap in previous work such as our Quality of Life Report.  However, new figures published for 2011 identify that the trend has continued and the gap in Warwickshire is even greater than the national average.  In a guest blog post our colleague Emma Basden-Smith examines the issue in more detail and describes how Warwickshire is responding to the challenge of inequalities in attainment at schools…

The Department for Education has just released the 2010/11 GCSE and equivalent results for pupils attending maintained schools in England, allowing the comparison of attainment levels by different pupil characteristics.

The standard indicator of school attainment is the percentage of pupils at the end of Key Stage 4 achieving 5+ A*-C GCSEs (or equivalent) including English and Maths.  For Warwickshire, the overall figure in 2011 was 61%, continuing its rise in recent years from 59% in 2010 and 54% in 2009.  Our local performance has consistently remained several percent above the average for all state funded schools in England, which for 2010/11 stands at 58% of pupils.

Whilst we can be pleased with the continued improvement in attainment of ‘all pupils’, when this attainment is viewed by pupil characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, first language, special educational need and free school meal eligibility, it is evident that there are significant gaps in achievement between certain groups of pupils and their peers.  The tackling of this under achievement among certain pupil groups and consequent narrowing of these gaps is crucial for many reasons, such as raising aspirations, improving opportunities and reducing social and economic inequalities.

Disparity between pupil groups varies at a national, regional and local authority level, with smaller pupil numbers at a local level meaning there can be variations year on year.  Despite this, a number of recurring themes have emerged.

The most consistent gap in achievement between two groups of pupils has been that between those pupils eligible for a Free School Meal (435 pupils at KS4 in 2011) and those pupils who are not eligible for FSM.  In 2011, 31% of those pupils eligible for FSM achieved 5+ A*-C including English & Maths compared with 63% of those pupils who were not eligible for a FSM.  In other words, pupils claiming Free School Meals are half as likely as other pupils to obtain good GCSEs.  In 2010, the gap was slightly larger at 32 percentage points.  At a national level, the figures were 35% (FSM) and 62% (non-FSM), so the gap is slightly smaller than the one we see in Warwickshire.  At a district level this achievement gap ranges from 24 percentage points in North Warwickshire up to 41 percentage points in Warwick District.

See our graphic illustrating the attainment gap in Warwickshire

In terms of ethnicity and language, the difference in the percentage of pupils in Warwickshire achieving 5+ A*-C including English and Maths whose first language is English and whose first language is not English is slight.  Similarly, there is little difference in achievement at KS4 by broad ethnic group with those Mixed, Asian, Black and Chinese pupils tending to do slightly better than their White counterparts.  However, when these ethnic groups are broken down further, the gaps widen.

So what is being done to address this inequality?  The Department for Education recognises the need to tackle the inequalities between children eligible for FSM and their less disadvantaged peers by introducing additional school funding in the form of the Pupil Premium.  The level of premium in 2011/12 is £488 per pupil for pupils eligible for FSM and for pupils in care who have been continuously looked after for more than six months.  It will increase to £600 per pupil in 2012/13.  A premium has also been introduced for children whose parents are currently serving in the armed forces.  It is for the schools to decide how best to spend this additional funding and to assess what additional provision is necessary to help and support the pupils from low income families.  Approaches and strategies used will depend on the school, the teachers and the learners but could include, for example, one-to-one tutoring, greater parent involvement, after school programmes, ICT and peer tutoring. The Observatory is involved in a separate project to try and identify how many additional households might be able to claim Free School Meals (and therefore the Pupil Premium) that currently are not doing so.  Contact davidgardiner@warwickshire.gov.uk for more details on that piece of work.

With the achievement gap widening as pupils progress from primary to secondary school, the earlier this additional provision, support and intervention are provided in a disadvantaged pupil’s education the greater the impact is likely to be.

For more information, contact the Commissioning Support Service at css@warwickshire.gov.uk

PS – we have now also added some further analysis on the differences in GCSE attainment across our 30 Locality areas, here.

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