While there have been many great successes for students and schools, regionally, the North East has seen decreases in both pass rates and top grades. This decline now sets us further behind other regions in KS4 achievement. 1
Today’s results saw the third wave of reformed GCSEs awarded, with the large majority of subjects now reformed. Results across the country have been in a state of flux since the first reforms, with grades for all regions taking a dip in 2017, when the new Maths and English qualifications were introduced. Since then, most regions results have improved, with some returning to, or exceeding the pre-reform level of 2016. However, both for top grades and overall pass rate the North East had improved at a slower rate than most regions. With this year’s decreases we remain behind 2016 figures.
Disadvantage in the North East
The recent Education Policy Institute report highlighted that secondary students in disadvantaged areas fall 18 months behind their peers by age 16. In all of the region’s local authorities, the disadvantage gap exceeded the national average. We know that within the North East there is a far higher concentration of children experiencing the highest impact, long-term disadvantage than elsewhere in the country.2
Schools North East Director of Operation Chris Zarraga said ‘Congratulations to our students across the region. While we celebrate the achievements of many students, it is evident that today’s results show a continuing challenge for the North East since the reformed GCSEs were introduced. We know teachers and schools across the region have been working hard to close the ‘gap’ in attainment, yet much more needs to be done by the Government to ensure that any proposed future increases in funding are targeted to challenge the significant impact of disadvantage faced by students in deprived areas like the North East.’
In addition to disadvantaged students already being up to 18 months behind their peers, today it was also announced that an ASCL survey found 80% of school leaders believed that the new GCSEs were detrimental to lower ability students. Geoff Barton, ASCL general secretary, said: “The government has seen increased rigour as an end in itself without fully considering what it wants the exam system to achieve for all students of all abilities.
“As a result, we now have a set of GCSEs which are extremely hard to access for students with lower prior attainment. This is incredibly stressful and demoralising for these young people.”3
Post 16 destinations
While we welcome the optimism of Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson’s statement today that there ‘has never been a better time to go into further study’, it is evident from the EPI report that there is not an equality of opportunity for students at post-16. There is a correlation between the disadvantage gap above and the ‘Segregation Gap’ (the gap between disadvantaged students who go on to vocational FE vs A Levels). As well as having a higher disadvantage gap, areas in the North East generally have higher segregation gaps, meaning fewer disadvantaged pupils go on to A Levels than elsewhere in the country. Again, more needs to be done to ensure targeted funding can help to close this gap and support disadvantaged students to have a broader range of options at post-16.
The National Picture
- 1 in 5 pupils achieving a grade 7 and above
- Almost a third of pupils failing to secure a pass; a statistic that remains consistent with pre-reform levels
- The gender gap at grade 4 narrowed by 0.3% as expected due to the majority of reformed subjects being wholly/mainly exam based.
- 66.4% of the 837 pupils who achieved straight grade 9s were girls.
- Girls remain on top for securing top grades; 24.1% achieved grade 7 compared to 17.6% boys entries.
- EBacc entries increased by 3.8%, with arts entries also increasing by 3.2%.
- In both English and maths, the resit pass rate has fallen to 31.9% and 22.3% respectively for 17 year olds.
- According to EPI’s Annual report, secondary School Persistent Disadvantage: Middlesbrough, Newcastle upon Tyne and Sunderland all in top 20 share of persistent disadvantage. Also see Education Data Lab on long term disadvantage (ffteducationdatalab.org.uk/2017/07/long-term-disadvantage-part-one-challenges-and-successes/)