Poorer pupils more likely to be excluded than achieve 'good' GCSE grades

'Higher rates of exclusion and lower GCSE attainment is a real cause for concern'

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Wednesday 22 August 2018 08:32 BST
What is the new GCSE grading system?

Poorer pupils in secondary school are more likely to be excluded than they are to pass one of the government’s key measures of GCSEs, new analysis has found.

A higher percentage of secondary students eligible for free school meals (FSM) were temporarily or permanently excluded from school last year than achieved the English Baccalaureate (EBacc), a collection of core academic subjects that ministers want the vast majority of pupils to sit.

The analysis, from education charity Teach First, comes ahead of students receiving their GCSE results this week.

Students must score A* to C grades, or 4 or above in the new numerical scale, in five core subjects – English, maths, a science, a language and history or geography – to achieve the EBacc.

Ministers have said they want to see 90 per cent of students taking the EBacc – which controversially does not include any arts or design and technology subjects – by 2025.

But the report found that only 10.3 per cent of FSM students in Year 11 achieved the EBacc measure last year, whereas 10.7 per cent of FSM students in secondary schools in 2016/17 were excluded.

Around a quarter of all GCSE students achieved the EBacc last year – meanwhile 4 per cent of non FSM students faced permanent or temporary school exclusions, the analysis found.

Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner MP called the findings "a scandal".

She added: "This is the latest sign of a Government that is failing the most disadvantaged students in our schools. The number of pupils with complex needs are rising, yet Ministers have carelessly cut per pupil funding for the first time in a generation, as well as slashing the pupil premium in real terms year after year.

"A generation of children could end up paying the price for Conservative failure. The next Labour government will invest in our schools, increasing per pupil funding in real terms, to ensure that every child gets the opportunity they need."

The findings come after the number of permanent exclusions from schools reached its highest point in nearly a decade – with more than 40 children a day being banned from state schools in England.

The Department for Education (DfE) recently launched a review of exclusions to look at why children eligible for FSMs are around four times more likely to be excluded than their wealthier classmates.

Russell Hobby, chief executive of charity and teacher recruiter Teach First, said: “Exclusion is the hotly debated topic in education right now and whatever your opinions towards the EBacc, there is no denying that the subject within it are highly valued by top universities.

“So with higher rates of exclusion and lower GCSE attainment it’s a real cause for concern that poorer young people appear to lack the support and guidance they need to succeed through school, to keep their options open and to meet their aspirations.”

He added: “We need all young people to have access to the same high standards of education, regardless of their background or family income.

“We believe this starts with the many great teachers who are making a significant and life changing difference to young people. With the next generation facing an uncertain future ahead, we need many more talented people to take up the challenge of teaching in disadvantaged communities.”

The analysis revealed that 69,261 GCSE students were eligible for FSM last year – of those 7,133 (10.3 per cent) achieved the EBacc.

Meanwhile, 44,400 secondary school students eligible for FSM experienced one or more fixed period exclusion in 2016/17 - which was a total of 10.7 per cent of the cohort.

The study comes after a survey from schools watchdog Ofsted this week found that more than a fifth of teachers have witnessed school pupils being effectively excluded through the back door to boost exam results.

It found that 21 per cent of teachers had seen “off-rolling” – where students are taken off the register using informal exclusions – take place in a school they had worked at.

Education secretary Damian Hinds recently condemned the practice saying that he heard “many stories” of schools using informal exclusions to get rid of pupils with special educational needs (SEN).

A study by the Labour Party this week also raised concerns about the treatment of children from poorer homes, reporting that students from deprived families are nine times more likely to attend secondary schools which are rated inadequate compared to their wealthiest peers.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Our priority is to make sure that all students, regardless of their background, have the opportunity to go as far as their talents will take them. We are seeing increasing numbers of disadvantaged pupils taking the EBacc and the attainment gap between pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and their more affluent peers has shrunk at various levels - 14% in the early years, 10 per cent at age seven and 10% at GCSE level.

“The Teach First conclusions are flawed as EBacc performance and exclusions rates are not directly comparable in this way."

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