Coastal schools 'hit hardest by GCSE reforms'

Disadvantaged pupils in coastal schools struggle with changes to English GCSE and removal of ECDL from Progress 8

Mark Smulian

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GCSE reforms may have damaged the performance of disadvantaged children in coastal towns more than those elsewhere, research shows.

That finding has come from educational research body FFT Education Datalab, which analysed Progress 8 scores.

In a blogpost published today, it revealed that between 2014 and 2016 Progress 8 scores improved among coastal schools – but remained negative overall. However, these scores have started to decline since the reformed GCSEs began.

Education Datalab defined coastal schools as those within 5.5km of the sea, of which there were 523 in 2018. These schools had 79,000 pupils included in the Progress 8 measure in 2018, equivalent to 16.2 per cent of all pupils included in the Progress 8 measure in state-funded mainstream schools.


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It said that 26 per cent to 27 per cent of pupils at coastal schools were classified as disadvantaged, the same percentage as at other schools, but their Progress 8 scores had declined at a faster rate than in schools elsewhere.

Disadvantaged pupils in coastal schools

FFT researcher Dave Thomson, who authored the blog, said disadvantaged pupils in coastal schools had been disproportionately affected by reforms to GCSE English – which have been questioned by heads concerned about the qualification's increased literary content – and changes which mean that from 2018 the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) no longer counted towards Progress 8.

Between 2016 and 2018, the Progress 8 score for disadvantaged pupils in English GCSE in coastal schools fell by more than 0.2, equivalent to one-fifth of a grade. Disadvantaged pupils in other schools appeared less affected.

Performance for disadvantaged pupils in coastal schools also fell by more than 0.2 between 2016 and 2018 in the "open" subjects, which can be any three subjects apart from maths and English that are approved to be used in Progress 8.

In 2017, 43 per cent of disadvantaged pupils in coastal schools were entered for the ECDL qualification compared with 32 per cent in other schools.

By contrast, Progress 8 scores for the mathematics and EBacc slots fell only by around 0.05 between 2016 and 2018 among disadvantaged coastal pupils.

Mr Thomson said the figures showed that “disadvantaged pupils in coastal schools have been disproportionately affected by GCSE reforms, particularly in English, and by the removal of ECDL from the calculation of Attainment 8 and Progress 8”.

He added that it was possible that these differences were related to the different characteristics among the pupils concerned.

For example, among disadvantaged coastal pupils more than 90 per cent were from "high impact" disadvantaged groups, among whom the impact of disadvantage appeared greater than for some other groups – compared with only 65 per cent in other schools.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We want disadvantaged pupils from all schools to have the same opportunity as other pupils. Since 2011, the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers, as measured by the disadvantage gap index, has narrowed by 9.5 per cent at Key stage 4.

“We are providing schools with an extra £2.4 billion each year through the pupil premium to improve disadvantaged pupils’ performance – this includes coastal schools. In addition to this, we recognise the circumstances of some more remote schools, which is why the National Funding Formula allocates additional funding of £25 million specifically for small and remote schools.”

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Mark Smulian

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