A consideration of some GCSE attainment data by Equality Protected Characteristics groups and Widening Participation factors

I was curious about the size and scale of the cohort we have to reach and target through widening participation engagement and so I looked at the GOV.UK datasets of GCSE attainment and the annual reports from the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) websites.

Working on the premise that Grade 4 in English and Maths GCSE are part of basic entry requirements to many Level 4 education courses, their attainment can be hurdle for many Year 11 pupils to surmount, particularly those who are predicted as potentially borderline passes.

The two websites provide a very interesting insight into pupils’ GCSE performance by protected characteristic groups and other factors, such as location and if they are entitled to or in receipt of Free School Meals (the Department for Education use entitlement to FSM as one of the definitions of disadvantage).

The GOV.UK data examines the GCSE English and Maths results from the year 2017-18. This is a cohort of students who were taking their GCSEs in 2018, who will now be sitting their Level 3 qualifications prior to progression into post compulsory education this year (Summer 2020).

Joint Council for Qualifications

I have specifically looked at the 2018 results for comparison with the GOV.UK cohort results for the year 2017-18.

When considering the JCQ data and the cumulative percentages by grade and gender for Maths and English GCSE results for June 2018 (England only), a couple of key points on attainment of a Grade C /4 stand out:

  • For English GCSE, 54.6% of male pupils and 70.1% of female pupils attained Grade 4/C. This is a gender attainment gap of 15.5%. On the other side of the calculation, this means 45.4% of males did not gain a pass grade at English GCSE.
  • In Maths, 59.7% of both males and females sitting the GCSE passed with a Grade 4/C.
Gov.UK ethnicity facts and figures data

 The Department of Education website presents GCSE attainment data in a different way; providing figures on pupils’ performance of achievement of a ‘strong’ pass of grade 5 of both English and Maths sifted in terms of gender, ethnicity, and location and whether in receipt or entitled to FSM.

Some of key points highlighted from the website shows:

  • In 2017/18 43.3% attained a grade 5 or above in GCSE English and Maths.
  • In every ethnic group girls were more likely than boys to get a strong pass in GCSE English and Maths.
  • In every ethnic group, pupils eligible for FSM were less likely to get a strong pass in GCSE English and Maths than those not eligible.
  • Gypsy Roma pupils were the lowest percentage of attainment at 5.3%.

If entitlement to FSM is put into the equation with ethnicity and gender, the figures in GCSE attainment becomes stark. The data on the GOV.UK website indicates that for those attaining Grade 5 or above in English and Maths GCSE:

  • Black Caribbean Boys, in receipt of FSM: 11.2%
  • White British Boys, in receipt of FSM: 14.4%
  • Gypsy Roma Boys and Girls, in receipt of FSM: 2.9%

In terms of intersectionality of GCSE attainment between protected characteristics of ethnicity, gender and to include the factor of locations that GHWY cover, it shows how the combination of characteristics are at work across the aras of Bradford, Leeds and Wakefield creating subtle differential in attainment and gender attainment gaps across the region.

  • In Bradford, the lowest attaining group are mixed ethnicity girls at 25.4%, 3.6 percentage points lower than their male counterparts. Black pupils – male and female – were 30.8%.
  • In Leeds, Black males’ Maths and English GCSE attainment at Grade 5 or above was 26.9%, 10.3% below Black girls attainment.
  • In Wakefield the lowest attaining group by ethnicity and gender were Black boys at 29.2%, 16.3% lower in attainment than Black girls.

Both websites are revealing in the information they convey on GCSE performance and I would recommend spending some time immersed in the data. There is a lot more information to delve into and think about: school types, religion, breakdown of ethnicity groups etc. Combined, they provide insights into some, but not all, contextual information that informs NCOP and its targeting.

Ultimately the message that emerges is that a lot of consideration needs to be given to our target cohorts prior to their GCSE attainment; to ensure that they surmount the attainment hurdle that keeps their progression pathways and options open.


Martell Baines, Progression Manager, Leeds Arts University