Have GCSE reforms in England led to a widening of the achievement gap?

A report published by the Sutton Trust suggests that recent changes to GCSEs – including tougher exams and a new grading system – have led to a slight widening of the achievement gap in England, but the overall impact is small.

Making the Grade uses Key Stage 4 data from the National Pupil Database from before and after the GCSE reforms were introduced. Simon Burgess and Dave Thomson looked at the results and entry rates for disadvantaged pupils (pupils eligible for free school meals at any point in the six years up to and including the year in which they reached the end of Key Stage 4) and non-disadvantaged pupils to explore the impact on disadvantaged pupils and the achievement gap.

Their findings suggest that during the period that the reforms were introduced, test scores for disadvantaged pupils fell slightly compared to their classmates. Under the previous system, 2% of disadvantaged pupils achieved the top grade of A*, whereas just 1% now achieve a 9 (the re-designated top grade). The drop is less for non-disadvantaged pupils, falling from 8% achieving A* to 5% achieving a 9.

Source: Making the grade: The impact of GCSE reforms on the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers (December 2019), the Sutton Trust

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