Nearly half of the improvement to English GCSE results over the past decade is due to increased attainment at primary school, researchers have claimed.
The proportion of pupils gaining a grade C or higher in GCSE English has risen from 60 per cent in 2007 to 71 per cent in 2016, an FFT Education Datalab blog published today states.
Based on an analysis of the relationship between pupils' performance at key stage 1 and their subsequent GCSE English grade, the Datalab researchers believe around 45 per cent of this rise was due to improvements at key stage 1. This figure is reduced to 40 per cent when pupil characteristics are taken into account.
If key stage 1 improvements continue at the same rate in future, then 85 per cent of pupils would get an English grade 4 or higher in 2024, the researchers estimate.
The figure could be even higher if the lowest attainers made the same progress as their peers, they add.
They came to this conclusion after coming up with a combined score for pupils' key stage 1 reading and writing attainment and comparing these scores against pupils' GCSE grades. An earlier analysis had calculated the influence of different pupil characteristics on these scores.
However, the study provides no evidence suggesting that the two sets of results have a causal relationship rather than a merely statistical one.
The blog questions whether the rise in GCSE results it predicts would lead to concerns about the exams getting easier.
It highlights the fact that: "Comparable outcomes – the approach used by Ofqual to maintain comparability of standards over time – is based on an assumption that 'if the ability of students stays the same, and nothing else that could affect their performance changes, results should be stable over time'."
The analysis also shows that nearly half of the improvements at key stage 1 can be attributed to better attainment by pupils at foundation stage.