GCSE Results Will Expose a Divide in British Society

It would be hard not to notice that GCSE results were released this morning, and the headlines could probably have been written weeks in advance - lots of As and A*s

It would be hard not to notice that GCSE results were released this morning, and the headlines could probably have been written weeks in advance - lots of As and A*s; a general upwards trend in grades; thousands of children jumping for joy and celebrating as they receive their exam results - exams which will help determine the future course of their lives.

There will be many great achievements to be showcased, but yet why do many of us working in education continue to be concerned? Because these results will also continue to show the perpetuation of a depressing trend - that the link between low family income and poor educational attainment is greater here than in almost any other developed country.

Last year 31% of pupils on Free School Meals (which are claimed by pupils from the lowest income families) attained five A* to C grades at GCSE including English and Maths, nearly half the percentage of those grades achieved by pupils from wealthier families. Over the past five years, the gap in this measure between FSM eligible pupils and non-FSM eligible pupils has narrowed only slightly from 28.1% points to 27.6% points. In other words, you could virtually predict what GCSE results a child will end up getting by seeing their parent's pay slips when they are four years old. On average, their subsequent 12 years of education do little to change their trajectory. We know there are socio-economic gaps in early year development, which only seem to widen throughout formal schooling.

The effects of this gap are persistent and have consequences for individuals as well as society. We know that education levels can be directly linked to a person's happiness, earning power and even health and longevity. This situation cannot possibly lead to a fair Britain.

This status quo is unjust and untenable but, crucially, it can also be changed. We only have to look at other countries and regions that have managed to move towards this goal - Ontario, Singapore and Finland are three geographically diverse places that have little in common except for this success. Similarly many British schools have shown this can be done domestically - Mossbourne Academy, St Saviour's and St Olave's in London and Park View School in Birmingham, achieve GCSE results way beyond what has historically been achieved in low income areas even though most of their pupils come from the lowest income quintile. If this is being done for some children, how unfortunate is it that their peers don't share in this benefit?

Nine years of leading Teach First have shown me the secret to scrapping this gap isn't much of a secret at all. What we need are visionary headteachers with a clear ethos and strong aspirations for the pupils under their care, leading committed teachers and other staff who support the pupils to set and achieve stretching goals. This must be done in partnership with families and other community influencers.

It is not easy to achieve, but then important things rarely are. What could be more important than ensuring in an August not too long from now, teenagers in every neighbourhood in the country can celebrate with equal vigour their results that will open doors to the next stage of their lives.

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