School performance in 2011/12: key facts

By Jonathan Clifton

| 24 January 2013

The Department for Education has published the secondary school performance statistics for the last academic year (2011/2012). This is like the annual report on how the school system has performed. The full data is available from the department’s website, but here is a roundup of the key points:

Little change on the English Baccalaureate

The proportion of pupils being entered for the E-Bacc was 22.9%, which represents a small increase on the previous year (21.7%).

The government introduced the E-Bacc in an attempt to encourage schools to enter pupils for more traditional GCSE subjects. This has not yet filtered through in the performance indicators, as the change was introduced after the current cohort of students chose their GCSE subjects. But the government will be keeping a close eye on this next year. They will want to see the percentage of pupils entered for E-Bacc subjects start to increase.

In the short term, the fact that there has not been a big increase in pupils being entered for the E-Bacc is probably a good thing. When the E-Bacc was introduced there were concerns that pupils in the middle of their GCSE courses would be asked to switch subjects, in an attempt to boost their school’s position in the league tables. Thankfully this does not seem to have happened.  

The attainment gap has narrowed

36.3% of pupils eligible for free school meals obtained five good GCSEs including English and maths, compared to 62.6% for all other pupils. This means there was an attainment gap of 26.3 percentage points, an improvement of 1.1 percentage points on the previous year.  

A long-standing problem in the English school system is the gap in attainment between pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and their wealthier peers. Between 2007/08 and 2010/11 there was a gradual narrowing of the attainment gap. The drop was much more pronounced this year, which shows things are moving in the right direction. But with a gap of 26.3 percentage points there is still a long way to go, and there is a danger that rising child poverty levels could undo some of this progress in the future.

Failing schools

195 schools missed the government floor target (which means fewer than 40% of their pupils got 5 A*-C grades including English and maths, and fewer than 70% of their pupils made expected progress in English and maths).

Soon after entering office, the government raised the school ‘floor targets’ from 35% to 40% of pupils achieving five good GCSEs. These targets set out the minimum performance expected of all schools, and those schools that miss the target are liable to be taken over by academy chains. In 2011/12, 195 schools failed to reach the new target (107 of these were also below the old target of 35%). Some of these schools have already been turned into academies, but many of the others will now be forced to follow suit.

A small number of academies are failing

14 convertor academies have failed to meet the minimum floor standard

As part of its academies programme, the government allowed good schools to convert to academy status (under the previous government the academies programme was targeted only to disadvantaged areas). However, 14 of the new ‘convertor academies’ have already fallen below the government’s minimum floor standard. As Chris Cook notes in his blog, this causes a problem for the government because they do not have a programme for dealing with academies that are failing. Academies are not under the control of the local authority, which means it is up to civil servants in Whitehall to try and sort the problem out. It remains unclear whether they have the local knowledge or capacity to help these schools to improve. It appears that simply converting a school into an academy is not enough to ensure it improves.

The gender gap has widened

Girls continue to outperform boys at GCSE. Last year 63.6% of girls achieved 5 A*-C including English and maths, compared to 54.2% for boys. This means there was an attainment gap of 9.4 percentage points – which is 2.2 percentage points larger than it was the previous year.

The gap in achievement between boys and girls got much bigger – increasing by 2.2 percentage points compared to the previous year. This was the partly the result of girls doing better (they improved by 1.8 percentage points), and partly the result of boys doing worse (they decreased by 0.4 percentage points). The poor performance of boys at school is causing a headache for policymakers, as it can contribute to problems later in life such as higher youth unemployment and difficulty getting into university. 


The performance of pupils from different ethnic groups continues to vary. The percentage of black pupils achieving 5 A*-C grades including English and maths is 4.2 percentage points below the national average – which represents a drop of 0.4 percentage points on the previous year. However there has been an improvement among Bangladeshi pupils, who performed 3.4 percentage points above the average.

There has been a lot of research into the variation in academic achievement between pupils from different ethnic backgrounds. Historically, Chinese pupils have performed well above the national average and black pupils have performed well below average. This position remained unchanged in 2011/12, and the gap between black pupils and the national average increased slightly. There has been a concerted effort to address educational attainment in some communities, such as the Bangladeshi community, which appears to be paying off. They have seen a large improvement in recent years and now perform above the national average, with 62.2% of pupils achieving 5 A*-C grades including English and maths at GCSE, compared to a national average of 58.8%. 

Jonathan Clifton is a senior research fellow at IPPR. Follow him on Twitter @jp_clifton

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