Across the great divide

23rd October 2009 at 01:00
Opposition parties have lambasted the regional variations in GCSE results as a case of rich against poor, reports Richard Vaughan

State school pupils in Sutton achieved the best GCSE results in England, according to Government figures published last week; Knowsley recorded the worst.

The statistics reveal that 67.7 per cent of pupils in the London suburb attained five A*-C grades, including English and maths, double that of the Merseyside local authority, where only 33.3 per cent of pupils hit the Government target.

Outer London, one of the wealthiest areas, achieved the best results overall, with 55.5 per cent of pupils gaining five good GCSEs; Yorkshire and Humber was the worst with 46.9 per cent.

Liberal Democrat education spokesman David Laws said the disparity between richer and poorer regions was "unacceptable".

"It is of deep concern that there is still a huge gulf between rich and poor areas, with the vast majority of pupils in the richest areas getting a good set of GCSEs compared with only a minority in many of the poorest," he said. "In Knowsley, one of the most deprived areas in the country, nearly 70 per cent of youngsters failed to get five good GCSEs, including English and maths."

Shadow schools minister Nick Gibb said: "It's very worrying that fewer than half of 16-year-olds are achieving the basic level of qualifications and that the huge gap between rich and poor still remains. Until we get more money direct to headteachers, and give them proper powers to deal with poorly behaved children, we are not going to see the improvements needed."

London state schools are the most improved overall, with nine out of the top 10 local authorities boasting the best figures since 1998.

The figures reveal huge increases in districts where richer parents have tended to send their children to private schools.

Kensington and Chelsea and Hackney topped the table for the most improved boroughs in the country, publishing 36.6 and 34.5 percentage-point increases, respectively, since 1998, although Hackney was starting from a lower base figure.

Many put the success of London's schools down to City Challenge, which focuses on improving schools in London, Manchester and the Black Country (see graph, left). The three areas where City Challenge is taking place saw an increase in results above the national average.

Overall, 49.7 per cent of pupils in all schools reached the threshold figure, an increase of 2.1 percentage points or 90,000 more children, with 50.4 per cent of state school students achieving the benchmark.

Just 47.7 per cent of pupils in independent schools attained five good GCSEs; this reflects an increase in the number of private schools opting to take the International GCSE.

Schools minister Vernon Coaker said: "The majority of pupils in the maintained sector have shown improved results. The IGCSE doesn't conform to the national curriculum and it doesn't teach Shakespeare. I don't think the credibility of the exam (GCSE) is suffering. I think the GCSE prepares students well in our schools."

Outer London also had the largest number of pupils gaining three A grades at A-level; the North East had the lowest at 6.7 per cent.

But the independent sector once again far outstripped state schools, with 31.9 per cent of its pupils gaining three As against 10.4 per cent of state school students.

MOST IMPROVED ENGLISH LOCAL AUTHORITIES: % RISE IN NUMBER OF CHILDREN ACHIEVING FIVE+ A*-C GCSES, INCLUDING ENGLISH AND MATHS

NORTH WEST

Warrington

+6.3% - 2008-09

+23.4% - 1998-2008

Regional average 2008: 49.5%

WEST MIDLANDS

Coventry

+5.5% - 2008-09

Birmingham

+21.3% - 1998-2008

Regional average 2008: 48%

SOUTH WEST

Torbay

+5.5% - 2008-09

City of Bristol

+19.1% - 1998-2008

Regional average 2008: 51.5%

NORTH EAST

Hartlepool

+8.8% - 2008-09

+23.5% - 1998-2008

Regional average 2008 47.8%

YORKSHIRE AND HUMBER

Kingston upon Hull

+6.9% - 2008-09

North East Lincolnshire

+21.3% - 1998-2008

Regional average 2008: 46.9%

EAST MIDLANDS

Nottingham

+6.3% - 2008-09

Rutland

+23% - 1998-2008QQ]Regional average 2008: 49.5%

INNER LONDON

Hackney

+8.8% - 2008-09

Kensington Chelsea

+36.6% - 1998-2008

Regional average 2008: 48.7%

SOUTH EAST

Milton Keynes

+5.7% - 2008-09

+25.8% - 1998-2008

Regional average 2008: 53.3%

OUTER LONDON

Bexley

+5.3% - 2008-09

Barking Dagenham

+22% - 1998-2008

Regional average 2008: 55.5%

EAST OF ENGLAND

Thurrock

+6.1% - 2008-09

+25% - 1998-2008

Regional average 2008: 51.7%.

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