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On the Map - A-level grades - Selectives loosen their grip

This is a map that is steeped in history despite the fact that the figures are for A-levels taken in 2010. For it clearly shows the political divide of England in the 1960s and early 1970s, when non-selective secondary schooling was becoming the norm. The top local authorities in five regions all have selective schools.

However, the best-performing authorities in two of the other four regions demonstrate how close comprehensive schools are now to overtaking some selective school systems.

Herefordshire outperforms North Yorkshire and Lincolnshire in the percentage of pupils gaining three or more A*-A grades, although these authorities have selective secondary schools and Herefordshire does not.

Nevertheless, 12.8 per cent of candidates scored three or more A*-A grades in Herefordshire compared with 11.5 per cent in Lincolnshire and 12.5 per cent in North Yorkshire.

But way out in front was Reading, where the two selective schools are really regional schools for that part of the Thames Valley, and probably not really local schools. The same is also true for the schools in Sutton and Trafford that also top their respective regions. Together these three authorities have schools in a different league from most of the rest of the country. Interestingly, although not shown on the map, Kent has a lower score than Hampshire, despite the fact that the former has an extensive system of selective schools, and the latter has none.

There is much work to do in the authorities at the other end of the regional tables. Most are either inner-urban authorities or relatively small urban authorities in rural areas, such as Swindon and Luton. The introduction of the pupil premium and a generation of pupils not exposed to continued teacher shortages may help to push up standards, providing pupils and teachers accept the challenges open to them. Otherwise, in 20 years' time, this map may look the same as it did in 2010.

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

PERCENTAGE OF STUDENTS ACHIEVING THREE OR MORE A-A* GRADES AT A-LEVEL (2010)*

*Local authorities with the highest and lowest percentages in each region

Northumberland: 10.5%

Gateshead: 4.1%

Trafford: 25.2%

Knowsley: 1.4%

N Yorkshire: 12.5%

NE Lincolnshire: 2.8%

Herefordshire: 12.8%

Sandwell: 3%

Lincolnshire: 11.5%

Northamptonshire: 6.3%

Southend: 14.5%

Luton: 4.3%

Sutton: 22.6%

Hackney: 2.6%

Reading: 35.1%

Portsmouth: 3%

Bournemouth: 18%

Swindon: 4.7%.

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