This year’s GCSE results have shown significant regional differences, with the proportion of students achieving top grades much higher in the south compared with the rest of England.
Across the north and the Midlands, the North West had the highest proportion of A+ grades at 23.1%, while 29.2% pupils in the South East were handed top marks.
This is despite Boris Johnson’s ‘Levelling Up’ agenda, and Labour criticised the government for “failing” children ov, meanwhile the Liberal Democrats said the Tories deserve an ‘F’ for letting down pupils, parents and teachers in the pandemic.
Is there a greater North South divide in GCSE grades this year?
The 2022 GCSE results have revealed how pupils living in the south achieved higher grades than those in the north.
In London, almost a third of grades were at 7 (A) or above, with the capital seeing the highest percentage of top results.
The South East and East of England closely followed, at 29.1% and 26.2%.
The South West also saw 25.2% of grades at 7 (A) or above.
However, up north the percentages of the higher grades drop.
Both the North East and Yorkshire and the Humber saw 22.4% of grades at 7 (A) or above, with the North West at 23.1%.
While the Midlands had similar top grades, with the East Midlands at 22.5% and the West Midlands at 22.8%.
Compared to pre-pandemic times, London pupils have seen the biggest jump in GCSE grades, but the proportion of top grades increased in all regions compared with 2019.
However the steepest increase was in capital (up 7% to 32.6%) and the lowest in the East Midlands (up 4.2% to 22.5%).
Business leaders have called on the government to address what they say is a deepening education divide between the north and the south, by giving schools more resources and funding.
While Chris Zarraga said this year’s GCSE results in England are a “map of the impact” of the pandemic and its disproportionate effects.
The director of Schools North East, which describes itself as dedicated to improving outcomes for young people in the north-east of England, called for an urgent “recovery plan” recognising differences in different areas.
He said: “We are incredibly proud of the students and school staff in our region and all they have achieved despite unprecedented circumstances.
“However, the results are also a ‘map’ of the impact of Covid, reflecting the disproportionate affect the pandemic has had on our region and the exacerbation of serious perennial issues, especially that of long-term deprivation.
“Schools urgently need a properly thought through and resourced ‘recovery’ plan, that recognises the regional contexts schools operate in, with a long-term view of education and a curriculum that is appropriate and accessible to all students and schools.”
What have opposition parties said?
Asked on Sky News about possible reasons for disparities, shadow education minister Stephen Morgan said: “Because the Government failed children and the children recovery plan hasn’t actually made a real difference across the country.”
He added: “Most ministers don’t seem to be able to describe what levelling up means. And what we are seeing is a failure of Government investment across the country. That’s why our plan would make a real difference…
“And look at the BTec results last week – there are young people that still don’t have results from Level Three. We have heard that the Level Two results won’t be out today, either.”
What has the Government said about the regional disparity?
Will Quince, minister for school standards, was asked on Times Radio about GCSE regional disparities because of Covid-19.
He said: “It’s a huge priority. Ensuring that wherever you live up and down our country that you have access to a world-class education, and you have the same opportunity – whether you live in Bournemouth or Barnsley – is really important to us, and every year up until the pandemic we’ve been closing the attainment gap.”
He added: “The pandemic has without question set us back on that mission. But to say that I am back on that with gusto would be an understatement.
“It is my mission as schools ministers to ensure that wherever you live in our country, that you have that same level of opportunity.”
What do each of the GCSE grades mean?
This system was introduced to bring in more differentiation at the top end of the grading scale, and allow sixth forms, colleges, universities and employers to have a better understanding of what level young people are working to.
The exams regulator Ofqual issued the following guide to explain how the the numerical system compares to the old alphabetical system:
- 9 = High A* grade
- 8 = Lower A* or high A
- 7 = Lower A grade
- 6 = High B grade
- 5 = Lower B or high C
- 4 = Lower C grade
- 3 = D or high E
- 2 = Lower E or high F
- 1 = Lower F or G
- U = U remains the same
What GCSE grade do I need to get to pass?
Schools are judged by the proportion of its pupils that have achieved a grade 4 and above, with a grade 4 being called a standard pass.
This means that any pupil achieving a grade 4 or above in English and maths will not have to resit these qualifications under regulations introduced in 2015/16.
Schools are also judged on the number of pupils that gain a grade 5, which is called a strong pass, or anything above that.
In addition, the highest grade of 9 isn’t exactly the same as an old A*, if anything it’s better.
This is because a grade 8 is also roughly equivalent to the lower half of the A* band and a higher A.
Under the numerical system only a few students should achieve a grade 9 as they are not given out easily be examiners.