The attainment gap between poor pupils and their peers widens when off-rolled youngsters are taken into account, a new study has found.
Meanwhile separate research published today suggests Michael Gove’s reforms have also widened the attainment gap – leading to calls for more support for disadvantaged pupils.
‘Off-rolling’ widens gap – but ‘reweighted’ league tables a solution
Current figures show that 47 per cent of disadvantaged mainstream pupils achieved a grade 4 or above in English and maths in 2018, compared to 72.6 per cent of non-disadvantaged pupils.
However, a study by Education Datalab found that once school results were recalculated to take into account pupils who left before the end of Year 11, this figure dropped to 45.2 per cent for disadvantaged pupils and 72.1 per cent for non-disadvantaged – widening the gap by 1.3 percentage points.
Philip Nye, a researcher at Education Datalab, warned that “until all pupils are taken into account there will be an incentive to off-roll pupils”.
Datalab found the number of pupils leaving mainstream secondary schools for an unknown destination grew from 22,000 in 2016-17, to 24,600 in 2017-18.
Around a third of these were disadvantaged. The researchers estimate up to 9,200 of the pupils who left in 2018 remained in England but did not count in league tables or take any exams.
Datalab is calling for the next government to adopt “reweighted” school league tables, which take into account the length of time a pupil spent at a school.
But Rosamund McNeil, assistant general secretary at the National Education Union, said league tables are “the heart of the problem – not the solution” and called for better co-operation between schools and local authority involvement to make schools “equally inclusive”.
Study reveals social mobility fears of Gove reforms
Meanwhile a Sutton Trust study found test scores in reformed exams for disadvantaged pupils fell slightly compared to their classmates, however the dip was small (just over a quarter of a grade across nine subjects).
Half as many disadvantaged pupils now receive the top grades under the new 9 to 1 GCSEs. Previously, 2 per cent achieved an A*, whereas now just 1 per cent reach a grade 9.
The drop for non-disadvantaged pupils was smaller, from 8 per cent to 5 per cent.
Although the study conceded the reforms have not had a “significant impact” on the attainment gap – with the comparable outcomes system keeping results stable – the report warned a growing gap at the top of the scale could have negative social mobility impacts, for example in university admissions.
The reformed GCSEs, first sat in 2017, were the brainchild of Michael Gove.
The former education secretary was praised for his reforms yesterday after PISA results showed a significant improvement in maths performance among English pupils, but today’s report shows his reforms in a less positive light.
James Turner, chief executive of The Sutton Trust, said it is important the government “monitors carefully the long-term impact that the reforms may have”.
The Sutton Trust found that under the new GCSEs, better-off pupils are 1.63 times more likely to get at least a grade 5 – considered by the government to be a “strong” pass. Under the legacy system, they were 1.42 times more likely to get a C.
The charity warned that if grade 5 becomes the expected requirement for post-16 courses or university admission, this could become a concern.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the findings were a “terrible indictment” of the reforms.
“The issue that we really need to address is how to better serve students who face the greatest level of challenge. The new GCSE system does the exact opposite by making their lives even more difficult.”