Students in southern England advanced more than those in the north after lockdown restrictions led to an increase in missed school days in some regions, GCSE results showed.
Hundreds of thousands of teenagers collected their GCSE results on Thursday after taking their first formal exams in three years.
Overall, top grades dropped from 28.9% in 2021 to 26.3% this year as the government tried to fight grade inflation. They were still significantly higher than the last exams taken in 2019, when 20.8% of grades were marked “7” or higher, the equivalent of at least an A grade.
However, the North-South division in performance has increased.
In London, 32.6% of the scores were “7” or higher. In the Northeast it was 22.4 percent, and in the Northwest it was 23.1 percent.
The gap between London and the North East and North West has increased by almost one percentage point and two percentage points respectively since 2019.
Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said: “During the pandemic, we warned ministers that children in the North were experiencing more difficulties and disruptions in education than elsewhere, and unfortunately, today’s results confirm this.
“Due to the higher rate of Covid, children here have spent more days out of school than their counterparts elsewhere.”
The government was unable to provide laptops to every child who needed one and refused to fund adequate support, he added.
Anne Longfield, England’s former children’s commissioner, said: “The disparities between London and the North, where levels of poverty and levels of disruption during the pandemic are much greater, are glaring”.
“These areas need targeted and determined investments in education and communities,” she said.
Research has shown that students have missed more school days during the pandemic in northern England. Northeast students missed 15.3% of classes in the 2020 school year and fall 2021, according to research by the FFT Education Datalab. This compared to 11.6% of classes missed in London and 11.9% in the South East.
Poorer students and those living in underserved areas have suffered the most from the loss of learning as a result of the pandemic restrictions. They were less in school during times when schools were open and spent less time learning at home when schools were closed, according to a survey by exam watchdog Ofqual.
Katharine Birbalsingh, the government’s social mobility czar, suggested that the difference in performance between schools may be due to undedicated teachers.
Asked on Radio 4 about disparities between schools and regions, she said: “I have a lot of very dedicated teachers. And not all directors can say that all their employees are dedicated – I certainly can.”
Birbalsingh, who is the principal of the high-performing Michaela Community School in London and chair of the Social Mobility Commission, said: “There is also truth in the fact that you want to fill your school with teachers who go the extra mile, it would be foolish to suggest that all country teachers always go further.
“It’s also the ideas, the way we teach. We have a very strong discipline. Unfortunately, some teachers don’t like strong discipline, they think it’s evil to expect them to sit up straight or complete their homework.”
More children absent in the North
Meanwhile, data released last year showed that schools in the South were much more likely to enroll their students in the government’s Covid recovery tutoring program than schools in the North.
Robert Halfon, a Conservative MP and chairman of the education selection committee, said the results “are not surprising”.
“When you close schools to most students for the last two years in confinement, when disadvantaged children are denied the chance to learn, what do you expect?
“There was much less acceptance in the North of the recovery program. We know that absent children are concentrated in the North.”
The Northern Powerhouse Partnership, an association body for companies in the north of England chaired by George Osborne, the former chancellor, said a “triple whammy of factors” will have an impact on the widening performance gap.
They included “existing long-term disadvantage”, “learning loss during Covid” and “Department of Education failures to recover”, all of which it claimed disproportionately affect the north of England.
Sir Peter Lampl, Chair of The Sutton Trust, said: “It is concerning to see regional gaps in today’s GCSE results.” He added that they “are not a new phenomenon.”
“These gaps in achievement are a fundamental challenge in our education system and must be addressed urgently. The reasons behind these inequalities are complex and require adequate efforts and investment across the UK, with a focus on local collaboration on key ‘cold spots’ of social mobility. Closing the regional achievement gap is essential to truly leveling the country. All children should have the same opportunities for success.”
Girls do better than boys
Girls have maintained their lead over boys in the GCSE results this year, but the achievement gap has narrowed.
Nearly a third, or 30 percent, of the students’ grades were 7 or higher. Girls were 7.4 percentage points ahead of boys at 22.6%.
Last year, girls had a 9 percentage point lead, with 33.4% of female entries receiving a top score, compared to 24.4% of male entries.
Girls have consistently outperformed boys in GCSEs since the qualification was created in the late 1980s. The gap had been narrowing in recent years, but teacher-rated grades in 2020 and 2021 pushed girls further than ever before.
Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Education and Employment Research Center, said: “The explanation most people accept is that girls apply more consistently than boys, so they do much better in modules with assessments. .
“Boys often go their own way, but then frantically revise in the run-up to exams and scatter it all. Boys tend to do better with an end-of-course, big bang approach rather than being evaluated at all sorts of stages.
“It also means that because girls are better students, teachers tend to like them more. I think they were more favored than boys in teacher assessments in the last two years.”
A total of 76.7% of female entries received a grade of 4, the equivalent of a C grade, or higher, compared to 69.8% for boys, a 6.9 percentage point advantage. Last year, the difference was 7 percentage points.
Students who took their GCSEs this year received early information about the focus of the exams, had fewer topics to cover in certain subjects, and received support materials such as equation sheets on some exams.
They also had milder grades than in 2019. Exam boards were instructed to set grade thresholds at a “midpoint” between 2021 and 2019 pre-pandemic levels.
Geoff Barton, Secretary General of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The strong indication we are hearing from school and college leaders is that this must happen because next year’s cohort will also be heavily impacted by Covid. important given that the likelihood of more waves of infections during autumn and winter.”
Ofqual is expected to announce its plans for next year’s exam conditions in September.