This blog post explores the recently published DfE data on KS4 attainment in 2020. Due to the changed grading system in 2020, we cannot confidently determine whether there have been improvements in underlying performance across England from 2019. However, we can make comparisons between pupil groups, and explore what the changing system has meant for different groups across England. Specifically, this blog looks at the Attainment 8 disadvantage gap across state-funded schools in England, exploring whether this has been impacted by the 2020 grading system.
Throughout this analysis, we have calculated the disadvantage gap as the average Attainment 8 of disadvantage pupils in state-funded schools in the region/local authority minus the average Attainment 8 of all other pupils in state-funded schools in that area. For example, disadvantaged pupils in London have an average Attainment 8 of 46.5, and all other pupils in London have an average Attainment 8 of 56.5, so the disadvantage gap is -10.0. A negative gap therefore means that disadvantaged pupils have a lower average Attainment 8 than their peers.
England’s disadvantage gap
Figure 1 – Disadvantage gap in Attainment 8 in England
The disadvantage gap in England has been persistent and large since the Attainment 8 measure was introduced. The gap between disadvantaged and other pupils has been well over 10 points every year. That means that over the qualifications included in Attainment 8, disadvantaged pupils have been scoring an average of at least a whole grade lower per Attainment 8 entry than their peers.
After much talk about how the change in the grading system for 2020 impacted disadvantaged pupils (and other pupil groups), the effect across England appears to be small. Disadvantaged pupils’ average Attainment 8 increased by 3.4 points, a 0.2 point larger increase than for other pupils. This meant a small reduction in the disadvantage gap in 2020 compared to the 2019.
Local authority and regional disadvantage gaps
Figure 2 – Interactive map of the 2020 and 2019 disadvantage gaps by region and local authority
Note – a positive ‘Diff. from previous year’ means the disadvantage gap has narrowed. For example a change from -10.5 to -10.0 means a ‘Diff. from previous year’ of +0.5.
- London has the smallest regional disadvantage gap in 2020, at -10.0, meaning that, on average, disadvantaged pupils achieved one grade lower across each of their Attainment 8 entries than their peers. This gap is 1.0 point narrower than it was in 2019
- The South West had the largest narrowing of the disadvantage gap, from -16.1 in 2019, to -14.9 in 2020. However, this was still the second widest regional gap
- The South East had the largest regional disadvantage gap, at -16.6 in 2020. This gap was 0.3 points narrower than last year
- The East Midlands is the only region which saw a larger disadvantage gap in 2020 compared to 2019, widening by 0.4 points to -14.3
The size of the disadvantage gap varies greatly between local authorities and this variation has increased further in 2020. Despite the attention on the disadvantage gap, there are still only 20 local authorities with disadvantage gaps of less than a whole grade per Attainment 8 entry (-10.0 points). This is a very slight growth on 2019. Local authorities in urban areas of London, Manchester, and Birmingham tend to have smaller disadvantage gaps than large rural local authorities.
- Tower Hamlets’ disadvantage gap shrunk by 5.3 points to -1.3 in 2020. This is the largest change from 2019 across all local authorities and Tower Hamlets now has the smallest gap in England. This gap means an average difference between disadvantaged and other pupils of only just over a tenth of a grade per Attainment 8 entry
- The two local authorities with the largest disadvantage gaps in 2020, Reading and Buckinghamshire, had gaps of over 20 points, meaning an average gap of more than two grades between disadvantage and other pupils in those local authorities. In 2019, these were two of the three local authorities with gaps over 20 points
- North East Lincolnshire is the only local authority outside London to have had one of the smallest five disadvantage gaps in England over both of the last two years. The gap now stands at -3.9, having narrowed from -6.9 in 2019.
- 14 of the 20 local authorities with the smallest disadvantage gaps in 2020 are in London. All but four London local authorities have a narrower disadvantage gap than the England average
- However, within London there is a large difference between local authorities, with most inner London local authorities having gaps of less than 12 points, while some more suburban local authorities like Sutton, Bromley, and Kingston upon Thames have some of the largest gaps in England. Strikingly, the disadvantage gap in Sutton is over 14 times as large as the gap in Tower Hamlets
- While a majority of local authorities narrowed their Attainment 8 disadvantage gaps, a large minority – 62 local authorities – had a wider gap in 2020 than in 2019
- Of the ten local authorities with the largest narrowing of the disadvantage gap this year, six are in London and two are in the South West
Overall there is really no single consistent picture of what the 2020 grading system has meant for disadvantaged pupils across England. Nationally, the 2020 grading system saw the average Attainment 8 of disadvantaged pupils rise by over 3 points. It also saw the average Attainment 8 of all other pupils rise, meaning the gap between disadvantaged and other pupils remains large. Local authorities in the major cities, particularly London, generally continue to have smaller gaps than those in rural areas. Furthermore, these areas seem to have narrowed their disadvantage gaps in 2020 by more than other areas. However, even within cities like London, the average gap remains around a grade per entry, and many local authorities have larger gaps than that. As in 2019, a very large majority of local authorities across England have a gap of more than one grade per entry between disadvantaged and other pupils. There is still clearly much more work to be done across England to close the gap in attainment between disadvantaged pupils and their peers at KS4.
Note that the DfE have said that these statistics may be updated following results from the October/November exceptional exam series for GCSEs and A levels, which provided another opportunity for pupils who wanted to improve on their final grade, and for pupils who were not able to receive a grade this summer.