Gulf widens in school exam results

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THE GULF in exam performance is widening between the best and worst local authorities, despite the Government's drive to raise standards, the Audit Commission said yesterday.

The highest-performing councils were improving while some of the worst performers suffered a decline in GCSE results, according to a study of education authorities in England and Wales.

But auditors insisted that high education spending and well-heeled areas did not guarantee good exam results, and pointed to huge variations in performance between outwardly similar areas.

Paul Vevers, director of audit support at the commission, said: "It is quite clear that the best are getting better, and whilst some of the worst are improving, there is a clutch of the worst which is getting worse. That raises the question of whether it has to be so. The answer is, it does not have to be so."

Estelle Morris, the School Standards Minister, welcomed the report, but insisted that action would be taken against "failing" local authorities.

She said: "The report highlights the welcome improvement in GCSE performance and emphasises that schools in challenging areas can achieve good results. Results continued to improve last year and we have targets for further improvements in the future."

The report shows that more than two-thirds of councils improved their GCSE results. The percentage of pupils achieving five or more A to C grades at GCSE fell last year in Middlesbrough, Portsmouth, Islington and Bristol.

One of the largest falls in GCSE scores was in Hackney, despite increases in national curriculum tests in the past two years. Ministers are expected to intervene to take control of the authority's education department when Ofsted inspectors deliver their report on the council later this month.

Figures produced by the commission show wide variations in the GCSE performance of schools in the 15 most deprived areas and the 15 most affluent areas. In Camden, 39 per cent of children gained at least five good GCSEs last year - nearly twice as good as the 21 per cent score in Southwark, and better than the 34 per cent scored by Poole, Dorset, one of the 15 most affluent authorities.

Mr Vevers said: "Affluence or deprivation is a critical factor in how difficult a task an authority faces in achieving high educational standards. These results suggest that in some affluent areas councils and their schools are not fulfilling the potential of their children to the same degree as other areas."

class differences


1 Isles of Scilly 66.7%

2 Bucks 59.5%

3 Kingston-upon- Thames 58.6%

4 Sutton 57.9%

5 Windsor and Maidenhead 57.2%

6 North Yorkshire 56.3%

6 Barnet 56.3%

8 Wokingham 56.2%

9 Bromley 55.4%

10 Redbridge 54.7%

10 Glos 54.7%


1 Kingston-u-Hull 22.8%

2 Knowsley 22.9%

3 Islington 23.3%

4 Nottingham 26.1%

5 Hackney 26.5%

6 Haringey 26.6%

7 Middlesbrough 27.5%

8 Tower Hamlets 27.6%

9 Manchester 28.7%

9 Sandwell 28.7%

11 Lambeth 28.8%

Ranked by proportion of pupils gaining five or more GCSEs grade A* to C