The gap in performance between poor and better-off pupils has increased despite millions of pounds of government money being spent on trying to narrow the difference, exam league tables have shown.
The inequality between children receiving free school meals and their fellow pupils has increased for the first time since 2011 and now stands at 27 percentage points, the data indicated.
Warnings about the problem came as the tables showed the number of schools failing to reach the minimum target for exam success has more than doubled in the past year – from 154 to 330 – while leading education figures complained about confusion caused by changes to the system.
One in three disadvantaged pupils (33.5 per cent) obtained five A* to C grade passes at GCSE including maths and English - compared with 60.5 per cent of all students – as the gap rose byb just over 1 per cent.
The figures were found in the statistics by Teach First, which recruits the brightest and best graduates to teach in inner city schools. The organisation’s founder and CEO, Brett Wigdortz, described the sitation as “shocking”.
“Over recent years great strides have been made to close the gap but [this] data sees a reversal overall: things are getting worse for poorer children instead of better,” he said.
Headteachers’ organisations had long claimed changes to GCSE exams - designed to make them tougher by outlawing coursework and concentrating on end-of-course exams - would hit disadvantaged pupils – saying they needed the confidence of doing coursework well to go on and achieve.
The decision to only allow a pupil’s first stab at an exam count towards the league tables has led to schools stopping putting pupils in for exams early - and then allowing them to resit them if they do not get a C grade pass.
Tristram Hunt, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said: “Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are disproportionately dealt a bad hand in education... David Cameron’s schools policy is making the situation worse.”
But Mr Wigdortz said the blame for the increasing gap could not be held against changes to the exams and league tables – arguing it would have in fact have been wider if the exams had not changed.
Meanwhile an analysis of the results by the Sixth-Form Colleges Association showed that 92 of the top performing 100 institutions at A-level were either in the independent sector or selective grammar schools.
Yet the Government’s decision to derecognise the IGCSE - the international version modelled on traditional O-levels – in the league tables meant some of the country’s best known independent schools - including Rugby and Uppingham - came bottom, with not a single pupil gaining five A* to C grade passes including maths and English. More than 300 schools - mostly independent - registered 0 per cent.
Ministers are planning to re-grant the IGCSE recognition in two years when the new tougher GCSEs have bedded in.
Richard Harman, chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) - which represents 270 leading independent schools, described the decision to drop IGCSEs from the league tables “a nonsense”, adding: “This obviously absurd situation creates further confusion for parents as they cannot compare schools’ performance accurately and transparently.”
DfE officials stressed that they would consider more than just the exam pass figure before deciding whether to intervene in schools.
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said: “By stripping out thousands of poor quality qualifications and removing resits from tables some schools have seen changes in their standings. But fundamentally young people’s achievement matters more than being able to trumpet ever higher grades.”