Theresa May wants schools to pick pupils by ability. So what does the evidence reveal about her thinking?by Prospect Team / October 13, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
School results have been getting better—especially for the poor
Nobody disputes that more pupils in England have been passing exams in recent decades. And nobody who has looked at the results in any detail can dispute, either, that the rise in GCSE success has been especially marked among pupils from poorer homes. As the chart shows, their pass rate has shot up from just 23 per cent, for children born in the mid-1980s, to 65 per cent for the mid-1990s generation.
But what critics of England’s mainly comprehensive schooling system can and do dispute is whether this apparent progress is an illusion—the product of “grade inflation.” There is some evidence—for example from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study—that overall performance has not climbed as rapidly as raw exam results would suggest. But the same PISA data has been used to demonstrate that the attainment gap between rich and poor has narrowed since 2000, so this closing of the gap looks real.