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Charities’ concerns at regional and schools gaps for disadvantaged pupils

Social mobility charities have raised concerns over the continued disadvantage gap (David Jones/PA)
Social mobility charities have raised concerns over the continued disadvantage gap (David Jones/PA)

Social mobility charities have voiced concerns around the gap between the most and least disadvantaged A-level students and called for more to be done to address disparities.

The Sutton Trust said regional gaps are growing and the differences in levels of achievement at private schools compared with state schools and colleges are still above 2019 levels.

The charity said while 58% of grades at private schools were A or above, the figure was 35% at academy schools and 32% at sixth forms.

While A-level entries awarded the top grades – A* and A – in London rose to 39% from 26.9% in 2019, in north-east England the figure was 30.8% this year, up from 23% in 2019.

Sir Peter Lampl, Sutton Trust and Education Endowment Foundation chairman, said: “It’s great to see that many disadvantaged youngsters are gaining a place at university, and that there is a slight narrowing of the gap between the most and least advantaged.

“Universities have rightly prioritised widening participation in spite of an extremely competitive year.

“However, the gap is still wider than it was pre-pandemic, highlighting that there is more work to be done.

“Today’s data also shows that there are regional disparities in attainment. The Government must work to ensure that students from all backgrounds, in all areas of the country, have the opportunity to succeed.”

Sarah Atkinson, chief executive of the Social Mobility Foundation, described the gap between independent and state schools as “pretty static” as she voiced concerns around how results will look in 2023 as exam conditions return to normal.

She told the BBC’s World at One programme: “The end of the support that’s been in place this year, the end of those mitigations, treating next year as a back-to-normal year, rests on the premise that the education recovery agenda has been successfully completed and the support in place, particularly for those least privileged young people, has been effective.

“And that’s simply not the case. We know that education recovery is not done, by a long way.”

Labour accused the Conservative Government of “once again failing our children” when it comes to regional disparities.

Bridget Phillipson, shadow education secretary, said: “Students in the north east are no less capable but after 12 years of Conservative governments they’re seeing their results go backwards compared to their peers across the south of England.

“Labour set out an ambitious recovery plan, delivering small group tutoring, mental health support, free breakfast clubs and after-school activities for all. Our plans would enable young people to thrive. Instead, the Conservatives are once again failing our children.”

Earlier this week, a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers had seen “virtually no change” in two decades and the coronavirus pandemic had “significantly worsened overall outcomes”.

Across the UK, around one in seven (14.6%) of entries received an A*.

While this is down from nearly one in five in 2021, it is still much higher than the figure in 2019, which was 7.7%.

Meanwhile, a breakdown of this year’s results in England show that private schools saw one of the steepest drops in top grades between this year and last.

The Ofqual data showed a drop of 12.4 percentage points in the proportion of students at private schools getting A or above this year compared with last year, when grades were teacher assessed.

The drop at secondary comprehensives was 8.7 percentage points, while at academies it was a 7.1 percentage point fall.

The drop at places classed by Ofqual as further education establishments was 12.7 percentage points.

Independent Schools Council (ISC) chairman Barnaby Lenon said the change was as a result of grade deflation, rejecting any suggestion teachers at private schools had been more generous in their grading last year.

He told the PA news agency: “It would be easy for someone to think that, but that would be someone who didn’t know what actually happened last year.

“All selective schools in the state sector and independent schools had quite high levels of deflation. But independent schools, the ones I’ve spoken to today, are very happy with their results.”

He said the main characteristic of grade inflation in the pandemic had been the increase in the number of A and A* grades.

He added: “That is where most of the deflation back towards 2019 standards has occurred. What that means is that the more grades your school had in the A/A* bracket last year, the more there’s going to be deflation in your results this year.”