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Background to Success

Differences in A-level entries by ethnicity, neighbourhood and gender

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Overview

This report investigates patterns of academic attainment for different subgroups of a longitudinal sample of more than 3,000 students whose educational outcomes were studied across different phases of school and pre-school from age three to age 18.

The report is the second in a series produced using the EPPSE dataset for the Sutton Trust studying AS and A-level outcomes for students and the drivers of academic success in advanced level studies. In this report, we study equity differences in outcomes for different groups of students and illustrate the powerful role of background factors such as gender, ethnicity and disadvantage in shaping educational outcomes, success and educational futures.

Key findings

Gender

  1. Boys were significantly less likely to have continued onto an academic route post 16 than girls.
  2. The absence of KS5 data (indicating students did not continue to advanced courses) is especially evident for disadvantaged boys, almost 60% of the disadvantaged boys in this sample did not continue on an academic route.
  3. Disadvantaged boys were almost three times less likely to go on to enter four or more AS-level exams or to enter three or more A-level exams than other more advantaged boys.
  4. Disadvantaged girls were also significantly less likely to have continued their academic career than more advantaged girls, although the achievement gap was less marked. For this group 45% lacked KS5 data, compared with 60% for boys.
  5. Disadvantaged girls were much less likely to enter four or more AS-level exams than other girls, and almost four times less likely to enter three or more A-levels than other girls.

Ethnicity

  1. Students of white UK heritage, white European heritage or of mixed race were less likely to have progressed to advanced level courses than students from other ethnic groups.
  2. Almost half of Indian students entered four or more AS-level exams and approximately half entered three or more A-levels, almost double the equivalent percentage for white UK students.
  3. White UK disadvantaged boys were significantly less likely to enter four or more AS-levels or three or more A-levels than other white UK boys.
  4. Students who were eligible for or received free school meals in Year 11 were less likely to have progressed to advanced level studies post 16. They were almost three times less likely to take four or AS-levels or to take three or more A-levels than other students (those not entitled to free school meals).

Place

  1. Students who lived in poor neighbourhoods (measured by the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI) on the percentage of children living in poverty) were less likely to go on to advanced level courses than students who lived in more affluent neighbourhoods.

Additional Background Factors

While controlling for students’ individual characteristics (gender, age), family factors (ethnicity, free school meal eligibility, salary) and neighbourhood characteristics,  we found that:

  1. Girls were significantly more likely to enter at least one AS-level or A-level examination, to enter three or more A-levels and to obtain higher KS5 total scores than boys.
  2. Indian or Bangladeshi students were significantly more likely to enter at least one AS-level or A-level examination, to enter four or more AS-levels, and three or more A-levels and to obtain higher total AS/A-level points than white British students.
  3. Students who lived in more disadvantaged neighbourhoods, (those that scored higher on the IDACI), were significantly less likely to enter four or more AS-levels or three or more A-level examinations than students living in more advantaged neighbourhoods (who scored less highly on this index). Students who grew up in a neighbourhood with higher unemployment rates were also significantly less likely to enter three or more A-level exams than students whose neighbourhood had lower unemployment rates.
  4. Students who had attended a secondary school with higher proportions of students eligible for free school meals (indicating higher levels of disadvantage at school level or in the neighbourhood) were also significantly less likely to enter any AS/A-levels, to enter four or more AS-levels and three or more A-levels and to obtain lower scores on the total KS5 points, AS-level points and A-level points.

Recommendations

  1. Continued support for the pupil premium, to improve attainment for all disadvantaged pupils, while looking at the external effects that may compound the disadvantage.
  2. Support to encourage reading for pleasure, educational trips and out-of-school study opportunities should be provided to promote attainment for disadvantaged students at all ages.
  3. Continue to recognise the double disadvantage experienced by pupils in the poorest communities through the funding system and stronger accountability.
  4. Some groups of students, particularly white working class boys, should have additional encouragement and support to enable them to engage in self-directed study, do sufficient homework and read more books, the activities that provide extra academic dividends.
  5. All pupils should receive a guaranteed level of careers advice from professional impartial advisers.
  6. Targeted local programmes to drive up school standards.