A-level results 2023

We need a funded plan to close the regional attainment gap

We know why regional gaps are growing, says Nick Harrison, so it's time for government to start making changes

We know why regional gaps are growing, says Nick Harrison, so it's time for government to start making changes

18 Aug 2023, 5:00

This week’s A level results show that we still have a long way to go to close education inequalities across the country.

There is a long-standing attainment gap between disadvantaged students and their more advantaged peers, but this gap has widened due to the unequal impact of the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis.

Yesterday’s results reveal a stark contrast in grades between different regions. This builds on a trend over the past decade, which has seen a widening gap – in particular between London, which has had the top grades in the country for at least the past decade, and poorer regions such as the north east where I’m from, which alas is frequently at the bottom of rankings.

This reflects patterns of poverty in those areas, differences in demographics, as well as in the quality of schools. This year’s data shows that wealthier areas in the south have done better since 2019, whereas less well-off areas of the north have progressed more slowly, and in some cases fallen behind their pre-pandemic levels.

So why have these attainment gaps widened over the past few years? The COVID Social Mobility and Opportunities Study (COSMO) has been following the experiences of this year’s A level candidates since the height of the pandemic. Our research found big differences in remote learning for this group during lockdown, especially between state and private schools.

And barriers to remote learning were more likely to be experienced by young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds. These included a lack of access to a suitable device for learning or sharing a device, lack of a quiet space in the home or lack of support from teachers or parents – and in some cases all of the above.

Last year, while they were still in year 12, many young people in this group felt they had fallen behind due to the pandemic, with almost half (46 per cent) of students at comprehensive schools saying they had not been able to catch up with learning, a significantly higher proportion than those at independent schools (27 per cent).

When the same group were surveyed this year, we found that one-third (33 per cent) still felt the pandemic was having a negative effect on their education or training.

These results re-emphasise the scale of the issue we are facing

So we know that disadvantaged pupils have fallen behind due to the disruption of the pandemic, and they have also borne the brunt of the cost-of-living crisis, both of which have impacted their learning.

Furthermore, they also have higher levels of persistent absence. Those from disadvantaged backgrounds are twice as likely to be absent from school than their better-off peers. These absences are further widening the attainment gap and damaging the life chances of kids from poorer families. All of these factors can be seen in the growing regional disparities in today’s data.

But what can we do to reverse these trends and begin to close the attainment gap? These results re-emphasise the scale of the issue we are facing. We urgently need a national strategy to close the attainment gap in schools if we are to avoid a lost generation of social mobility.

The government could start by ensuring that pupil premium funding is extended to those in post-16 education. Disadvantage doesn’t stop at age 16, and neither should the associated funding.

And given we know tutoring is one of the most powerful interventions to narrow the attainment gap, the National Tutoring Fund should be put on a longer-term footing and focused on those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Those in post-16 education also require greater access to tutoring support.

Ultimately, any strategy needs to be backed with significant funding, after education recovery commissioner Sir Kevan Collins’ plan in 2021 was not.

We’ve a long road ahead, but these policies could help to set a course for a more equal future for the class of 2024 and beyond.

Latest education roles from

Tutorial Learning Mentor

Tutorial Learning Mentor

Barnsley College

School Liaison Admissions Tutor

School Liaison Admissions Tutor

Riverside College

Study Coach

Study Coach

Heart of Yorkshire Education Group

Lecturer in Maths

Lecturer in Maths

Heart of Yorkshire Education Group

EA to the CEO & Senior Directors

EA to the CEO & Senior Directors

Haberdashers’ Academies Trust South

Head of Faculty (History and RS)

Head of Faculty (History and RS)

Ark Greenwich Free School

Sponsored posts

Sponsored post

How can we prepare learners for their future in an ever-changing world?

By focusing their curriculums on transferable skills, digital skills, and sustainability, schools and colleges can be confident that learners...

SWAdvertorial
Sponsored post

Inspiring Education Leaders for 10 Years

The 10th Inspiring Leadership Conference is to be held on 13 and 14 June 2024 at the ICC in...

SWAdvertorial
Sponsored post

Inspire creativity in your classroom. Sky Arts’ Access All Arts week is back!

Now in its third year, Access All Arts week is a nationwide celebration of creativity for primary schools (17-21...

SWAdvertorial
Sponsored post

Unleash the Power of Sport in your setting this summer! National School Sports Week is back!

Unleash the Power of Sport this summer with National School Sports Week powered by Monster Kickabout! From 17-23 June,...

SWAdvertorial

More from this theme

A-level results 2023

A-level results: What is driving the regional attainment gap?

A-level results showed a growing disparity. But what is behind it? Schools Week investigates...

Samantha Booth
A-level results 2023

A-level results 2023: Regional divides ‘uncomfortable’, says Saxton

Ofqual chief regulator says rising north-south attainment 'is picture that needs to be seen' by policymakers

Samantha Booth
A-level results 2023

A-level results 2023: Which subjects saw the biggest drop in top grades?

Top grades in some A-level subjects are still far higher than the pre-Covid benchmark, despite overall drops

Amy Walker

A-level results 2023

T-level results 2023: 1 in 3 students dropped out

Nearly a quarter of students scored top grades this year, with an overall pass rate of 90.5%

Shane Chowen

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

One comment

  1. Phil Tarn

    The solution has already been decided. Throw money at the MATs and let them pay their CEOs and Exec Heads insane amounts of money to pressure, bully and gaslight staff as part of a toxic working environment (that is often sold as being ‘unapologetically aspirational’) to put on my classes after school and at the weekend ‘for the children’ with little or no pay while the exec heads and CEOs ride from off site strategy meeting to another (with many of the male MAT members I’ve encountered in the north conducting extra marital affairs during school hours and at taxpayer’s expense) discussing new curriculum strategies and fattening their trusts and already bloated salaries.