Closing the Achievement Gaps

The Guardian has posted a lot of very interesting data on the performance of different groups of pupils at GCSE. The strap line of the analysis is that ” poor kids are more likely to do worse in their exams.” What it doesn’t do is any analysis of how performance varies between different parts of the country. But it does provide some figures which enable us to work out something of what’s going on.

Headline achievement at the regional level is tightly grouped with the proportion gaining 5 GCSE’s at A* to C ranging only from 68% to 73%. But for pupils entitled to free meals (the proxy for “poor kids”) the range is massive going from 40% to 61%. The gap between the performance of all pupils and those on free meals ranges from just 7% to 28%.

Ministers of all parties have had as a target closing the gap between the performance of different groups of pupils. They’ve constantly asserted that it’s only unambitious schools and teachers that hold poor kids back. And of course they’re sure that it’s an inner city problem. Only a day or two ago in the dispute over Les Ebdon’s appointment to OFFA, Michael Gove’s view was that the problem is poor inner city schools not the attitude of universities.

So what do we find when we unpick the figures. The region where the gap between free meal pupils and the rest has almost been closed is Inner London. The biggest gaps are in the leafy shires of the south-east and south-west.

Other city areas are not far behind. In fact in the league table of performance of free meal pupils, the top 50 are all cities. Half of them are London boroughs and the rest include Birmingham, Liverpool and a host of other urban authorities.

And just for the record the much maligned Haringey scores 69% for all pupils – just 1% below the natiional average. For free meal pupils it scores 64%. Only Islington and Tower Hamlets have a smaller gap.

Maybe there are some lessons to learn here for ministers and the press about where to go to see the achievement gaps really being closed.