How do the long-term outcomes for pupils who achieved grade D in one of English or maths, but grade C in the other, compare to those of pupils who achieved grade C in both?
Of the 593,000 pupils who turned 16 in 2007/08 and took exams in state-funded mainstream schools, 49% achieved grade C or above in both English and maths. By way of comparison, 66% of pupils achieved the equivalent standard (grades 9-4) in 2018.
For this analysis, I’m going to look at the 11% of pupils who achieved (exactly) grade C in both English and maths.
This group are used as the comparator against which the results of the following two groups are measured:
- the 5% of pupils who achieved grade D in English and grade C in maths, and
- the 6% of pupils who achieved grade C in English and grade D in maths.
To try and compare like with like as much as possible, differences in pupil characteristics and school characteristics between the groups of interest and the comparator groups are controlled for. One of the factors controlled for is pupils’ broad level of GCSE attainment.
Doing this gives a group of 27,146 pupils matched to those who missed out a grade C in English, and a separate group of 33,843 pupils matched to those who missed out on a Grade C in maths.
What does this show us?
Overall, pupils who miss out on a grade C achieve slightly poorer long-term outcomes by age 24 than pupils who achieve grade C in both English and maths.
The tables below shows how these groups compare.
Missing out on a grade C in English is associated with weaker educational outcomes. Pupils who achieved grade C were more likely to have achieved two or more A-Levels or equivalents and, correspondingly, to have achieved a first degree by 24. While there were differences in employment rates and earnings at age 24, these were not particularly large.
Compared to the position in English, differences in educational outcomes are narrower among pupils who miss out on a grade C in maths. However, the differential in earnings was slightly greater at £11 per week.
Compared to pupils who had achieved grade C in both English and maths by age 16, the long-term outcomes of those who achieve grade D in one subject and grade C in the other are slightly weaker. This is even when compared to pupils who are otherwise very similar in terms of personal characteristics and overall attainment.
Of course, some of those who achieved grade D in either English or maths at age 16 go on to achieve it later. In our sample, 17% of those who achieved grade D in English and 15% of those who achieved grade D in maths had achieved grade C by age 17. This may well reduce slightly the differences reported here.
So it does appear that missing out on a grade C makes a difference to long-term outcomes. But perhaps the cliff between C and D isn’t that high after all?
The support of the Economic and Social Research Council is gratefully acknowledged.
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1. I statistically match pupils based on pupil characteristics (ethnicity, gender, first language, IDACI score, free school meals eligibility), prior attainment (standardised KS2 and KS3 scores) and school characteristics (percentage of pupils eligible for free school meals, mean KS2 score). I also match pupils on a measure of Key Stage 4 attainment, their mean grade in GCSEs. In other words, the “treatment” and “comparison” groups are broadly matched in terms of an overall measure of attainment, but they vary in English and maths grades achieved. As in other posts in this series, I use the covariate balancing propensity score method to balance the treatment and comparison groups in terms of observable characteristics.
2. The difference in achieving two or more A-Levels or equivalents is similar in magnitude to that reported by the Centre for Vocational Education Research in their analysis of a later (2012/13) cohort of pupils who just failed to achieve grade C.