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On the map - GCSEs - Deprivation transcends rural-urban results gap

Pupils in rural areas outperform their urban peers at GCSE. Although relatively few pupils live in rural areas these days - only about 100,000 GCSE candidates last summer compared with more than 460,000 in urban areas - the rural students were more likely to hit the then government target of five A*-C grades including English and maths.

Pupils in the best-performing rural areas, the North West, had an average outcome some 16 percentage points higher than the lowest-performing urban students - their neighbours across the Pennines in Yorkshire and the Humber. Even in the worst-performing rural area, the North East, the outcome was better than in all urban areas other than London (not featured on rural map below as numbers are so small).

It may surprise some that London tops the urban list, at least on this measure. In 200910, London's results were some two percentage points better than the next best region for urban pupils, the South East. This performance is even more remarkable considering the large number of pupils in London for whom English is a second language.

Drilling down into the figures, the message for policy-makers is clear: pupils in deprived areas still perform less well than those in more advantaged areas.

An analysis of both urban and rural areas suggests pupils living in areas of higher deprivation still tend to do less well than those in more affluent areas. Even bringing the achievement of pupils in cities up to the level of their country cousins will see a significant improvement in the outcomes of education, at least as measured by examination results at GCSE.

John Howson is director of Education Data Surveys, part of TSL Education.

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