A-level results 2021: Attainment gap widens for black and poorer pupils

Ofqual's director for standards Cath Jadhav will move to Pearson to become the exam board's responsible officer

Longstanding attainment gaps for both black and poorer students have widened, but Ofqual is unable to untangle whether this is down to Covid lost learning or the use of teacher grades this year.

Ofqual has today published student-level equalities analysis of A-level results, which includes data on how likely different groups of pupils are to receive top grades.

Researchers compared the performance of pupils with different characteristics – from ethnicity to free school meals eligibility – between 2018 and 2021.

Overall, the watchdog said gaps in ethnicity, free school meals and deprivation were “stable”, and that many of the comparisons it made across characteristics “showed no notable change” since 2019.

But they did find some “notable” changes. The gap between free school meal students and their peers widened by 1.42 percentage points between 2019 and 2021.

The gap between those living with ‘very high’ and ‘medium’ deprivation also increased over the same period by 1.39 percentage points.

Looking at ethnicity, researchers also found that the attainment gap between black and white pupils widened by 1.43 percentage points over the same time period.

Ofqual said the “few changes” it had noted could be linked to the impact of the pandemic on students’ education and the changes in assessment arrangements. But the watchdog said the two sources of impact were “impossible to disentangle”.

Although the proportion of top grades achieved this year increased for all groups, some actually saw a small relative decrease in outcomes when compared to other groups.

For example, boys saw a relative decrease when compared to girls, SEND pupils saw a decrease when compared to non-SEND children and pupils in secondary selective schools, sixth form and tertiary colleges saw decreases when compared to those in academies.

Ofqual also used another model to look in more detail at the impact on different ethnicities.

It compared the performance of black African, black Caribbean, mixed white and black Caribbean and mixed other students with that of white British students, and found the gaps had widened by between 1.88 and 2.04 percentage points over the last two years.

But the watchdog warned that because of “time constraints”, the report provided only a “basic equalities analysis”.


Read the rest of our A-level coverage

Top grades rise to 44% in record-breaking year

6 key trends in England’s data

What’s behind the north-south divide?

Less than 1% of teacher grades changed

Private schools see bigger jump in top grades

Attainment gap widens for black and poorer pupils

The 4 things to watch out for this week

GCSE and A-level appeals 2021: Your questions answered

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