New data released shows that the GCSE attainment gap between more and less advantaged students is widening.

According to recent national statistics on Key Stage 4 performance scores, the gap between disadvantaged students and others increased for the second year in a row.

Of the 143,000 students classed as disadvantaged by the Department of Education, only 546 of them achieved top grade 9s in English and maths in summer 2019, compared with 6,132 out of 398,000 other students.

While more than two thirds of non-disadvantaged students achieved a grade 4 or higher in maths and English, only 36% of disadvantaged students did so.

The Department for Education (DfE) classes about one in four state school pupils as disadvantaged. A disadvantaged student is defined as having been eligible for free school meals within five years before sitting GCSEs, or if they have been in care or adopted from care.

Nick Gibb, school standards minister for England, said: “The attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers remains stable and is down by around 9% since 2011, but we recognise there is more to do.”

Some groups of disadvantaged pupils make less progress than others because of challenges in their lives.

Duncan BaldwinASCL Deputy Director

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) represents many secondary school headteacher. They criticised the government’s preferred progress measure, arguing that schools with a high number of disadvantaged students were likely to suffer. Schools are given a Progress 8 score, which measures the attainment of their students at GCSE and compares it to their levels when they left primary school.

Duncan Baldwin, deputy director of policy at the ASCL, said: “Some groups of disadvantaged pupils make less progress than others because of challenges in their lives, and this can penalise schools with more disadvantaged pupils.

“Progress scores are also disproportionately skewed by a very small number of pupils with unusually low results, which may be outside the school’s control, such as a pupil who misses exams because of a long-term absence.

“We would therefore urge extreme caution about ranking schools according to this data.”

GCSE results 2019

The DfE has also published national data on the performance of schools run by multi-academy trusts (MATs). The data showed that some MATs helped schools make positive progress in their students’ GCSE results, with Star Academies trust in Blackburn making the fastest progress for its students the second year in a row.

Hami Patel, Star Academies’ chief executive, said: “It has always been our mission to improve the life chance of young people in disadvantaged areas bu providing them with an excellent standard of education.

“Our results demonstrate that non-selective schools can compete with the very best in the country and make a real difference for our pupils.”

However, overall figures showed that some multi-academy trusts were far less effective, with almost 40% reporting progress below the national average.

Foreign languages still important

Meanwhile, the British public also placed importance on the value of learning foreign languages at GCSE level.

According to a survey commissioned by the DfE, UK adults showed an overwhelming consensus on the importance of studying foreign languages. 83% of people said they thought languages should be taught at GCSE level, and 61% agreed that doing so would become even more important in 10 years time.

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