The Department for Education (DfE) published its finalised data on the 2018 GCSE results last week, revealing that, for the second year running, white pupils are doing worse in English secondary schools than any other ethnic group. According to the new Progress 8 measure, which assigns a score to GCSE entrants based on how much progress they’ve made between the ages of 11 and 16 relative to children of similar abilities, Chinese pupils do the best, with a score of 1.08, Asians are second (0.45), then blacks (0.12), mixed race (-0.02) and, bringing up the rear, whites (-0.10). What that score means is that on average white children are behind by a tenth of a grade in each of their best eight GCSEs compared to all English schoolchildren with the same grades at the age of 11.
Needless to say, the data has already been dismissed by heads of schools that have been labelled as ‘underperforming’ thanks to their poor scores (about 10 per cent of English secondaries are below the DfE’s ‘floor’ standard). They argue that Progress 8 penalises pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds because it treats how children perform in the tests they take at the end of Year 6 in primary school as the only relevant data point and ignores parental socio-economic status. A fairer measure, they say, would be for the DfE to assign progress scores to pupils based on their GCSE performance compared to children from similar backgrounds with the same results at the age of 11. By that metric, their schools would be about average — in some cases, above average. Incidentally, the reason non-white children from disadvantaged backgrounds aren’t penalised by Progress 8 is because a much higher percentage of them speak English as an additional language, which means their test scores at the end of primary school, when they may not be fluent in English, underestimate their academic ability. As they go through secondary their English improves, they get better at taking tests and, as a result, they appear to make more progress than white children. (To read more, click here.)