About 1,000 high-attaining poor pupils are missing out on top GCSE grades

About 1,000 high-attaining primary schools are missing out on top GCSE grades, while their richer peers with the same prior attainment are pulling ahead.

Just over half of poorer pupils who were within the top 10 per cent of key stage 2 scores in English and maths at primary school went on to get top grades at GCSE, compared with nearly three quarters of their wealthier counterparts.

Research from the Sutton Trust reveals that only 52 per cent of pupils eligible for free school meals with top scores in primary school got five A* to A grades at GCSE, compared with almost 72 per cent of other pupils with the same prior attainment.

This means that 1,000 pupils who did exceptionally well at the end of primary school are missing out on top GCSE grades just five years later.

The researchers, who analysed data from the National Pupil Database over three years from 2014 to 2016, also found a correlation between the type and characteristics of the schools that pupils attend, and their GCSE scores.

High-attaining poorer pupils do better in schools in London, for instance, and worst in the East Midlands.

High-attaining pupils on free school meals in the capital score 521 points at GCSE on average, compared with 476 in the East Midlands.

London also had the smallest gap between the GCSE scores of poorer high-attaining pupils and all other high-attaining pupils. The average score of high-attaining poorer pupils was 19 points, or 3.5 per cent, behind those of other high attainers.

The largest gap between the scores of poorer high-attaining pupils and others was in Yorkshire and the Humber, at 40 points or 7.6 per cent.

High-attaining poorer pupils also perform worse in schools with more pupils who are also eligible for free school meals, the researchers found.

In schools with the lowest proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals, poorer pupils with high attainment have a GCSE  score of 515 on average, compared with 488 in schools with the highest proportion of poorer pupils.

Girls and boys from poorer backgrounds also scored slightly better in single-sex schools than in mixed schools.

But the findings run counter to the claims of those who say grammar schools help the “bright poor” to achieve.

Even though about half of all pupils in grammar schools were in the top 10 per cent at key stage 2, compared with just eight per cent in comprehensive schools, only a tiny proportion of these are from poorer backgrounds.

The research shows that one in 17 of all high-attaining pupils in grammar schools are eligible for free school meals, compared to one in eight of all high-attaining pupils in comprehensive schools.

Finally, sponsored academies have the fewest poor pupils with high prior attainment. Only 17 per cent of all poorer higher-attaining pupils are in sponsored academies, compared with 44 per cent in converter academies, and 39 per cent in maintained schools.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder of the Sutton Trust, said better evidence on how to improve the attainment of “disadvantaged, highly able students” is needed.

The report makes four further recommendations:

  • School league tables should show the GCSE scores of poorer pupils with high prior attainment
  • There should be incentives for experienced teachers with subject specialisms to teach in schools operating in poorer areas
  • Pupils with the potential for high attainment must receive support that is as “inclusive as possible”
  • All pupils should be provided with high-quality extracurricular activities to boost their general skill set