A TES scrutiny of GCSE achievement reveals that some deprived authorities are doing much better than wealthier ones. Clare Dean reports
COUNCILS with pupils from similar social backgrounds are producing widely different scores at GCSE, an analysis by The TES of exam league tables reveals.
It shows huge variations in education authorities with apparently similar levels of deprivation. The difference in average point scores in some cases amounts to the equivalent of two top-grade GCSEs for each pupil.
One of the best-performing authorities, taking into account the proportion of children eligible for free school meals, is the London borough of Redbridge.
Its average points score at GCSE is 43.9 - the equivalent of an extra grade A for every pupil above what might be expected for an authority where just under 18 per cent of pupils are on free school meals.
Wakefield, Rotherham, Walsall and Portsmouth, which have similar levels of poverty, all fall below what they might be expected to score. Though Portsmouth only has 17.1 per cent of secondary pupils eligible for free meals (the national average is 16.9 per cent) it scores 12.7 GCSE points below Redbridge - a difference equivalent to two grade Bs per pupil.
Redbridge is one of the 10 most improved English local authorities in terms of the number of pupils gaining five or more good GCSEs over the past three years.
The authority has also scored above the free-meal indicator at both key stages 2 and 3.
Barbara Morton, Redbridge's chief inspector, said: "All our schools - primary, secondary and special - work hard to improve and the improvement agenda is taken very seriously.
"The challenge for schools and the local authority is always to do even better next year."
The TES analysis reveals a striking difference in the achievements of Kingston-upon-Hull and Redcar and Cleveland. Both authorities have some 27 per cent of pupils entitled to free school meals. However, Redcar and Cleveland scores two GCSE points above what might be expected, while Kingston-upon-Hull falls 7.2 points below.
Arguably, the best-performing authority is the London borough of Tower Hamlets, where more than two-thirds of pupils are on free school meals, making it the most deprived area in the country on this measure. Though its GCSE score of 32.8 puts it well below the national average of 38.1, on the TES analysis its pupils scored 7.3 GCSE points above what might be expected, and above 28 far less deprived authorities.
Helal Abbas, the borough's lead education councillor, said: "Our commitment to raising educational standards and increasing young people's aspirations are paying dividends."
Bracknell Forest with just 5.45 per cent of pupils eligible for free school meals appears to do particularly badly on the povertyresults index. Though it scores only 1.1 points below the national average, it falls 3.7 points below what might be expected.
Graham Lane, education chair of the Local Government Association, said: "Equal opportunities are all about making that sure that children in areas of deprivation are doing as well as the others."
What the graph shows:
Plotting each local authority's average pupil GCSE points score against the percentage of its secondary pupils eligible for free school meals gives an indication of how well or badly each authority is performing compared with those with similar levels of deprivation. The trendline provides an indication of the average performance for any given level of free school meals. The top 25 per cent of authorities score between 1.6 GCSE points(Redcar and Cleveland) and 7.3 points (Tower Hamlets) above this line. The worst 25 per cent score between 1.8 points (Haringey) and 7.7 points (Kingston upon Hull) below the line. Full details of this analysis on www.tes.co.uk