Ofsted today published its state of the nation annual report. Geographic inequalities in attainment featured prominently:

“There are 16 local authority areas in England where less than 60% of the children attend good or outstanding secondary schools, have lower than national GCSE attainment and make less than national levels of expected progress. All but three of these are in the North and Midlands.” (p.11)

I am perhaps a bit biased – my home town is one of the local authorities singled out*. That said, I’m not convinced that the difference in performance between those 16 local authorities (LAs) and the rest is that great once you take account of differences in prior attainment, pupil characteristics and school characteristics.

In the chart below, we show that the actual difference in the percentage of pupils achieving five or more A*-C grades including English and mathematics in 2015 between the 16 local authorities and the rest was eight percentage points. Once you account for differences in prior attainment (Value Added) this drops to six percentage points.

Go further and account for other differences in pupil intake such as free school meal eligibility and ethnicity (Contextual Value Added) it drops to two percentage points, just a quarter of the difference in actual results.

Figure 1: Difference between LAs identified as low attaining by Ofsted and other LAs in % achieving 5 or more A*-C grades including English and maths, 2015

As we have written before, the attainment of disadvantaged pupils, particularly those from a white British background, is a systemic problem not a geographical one.

*The 16 local authorities named are:

  • Middlesbrough
  • Hartlepool
  • Blackpool
  • Oldham
  • Doncaster
  • Bradford
  • Barnsley
  • Stoke-on-Trent
  • Derbyshire
  • Liverpool
  • Knowsley
  • St Helens
  • Salford
  • Isle of Wight
  • Swindon
  • South Gloucestershire