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Social Class Differences in Educational Achievement : The Data

Page last updated: 01/09/2018 .

 

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Learning objectives for this document

  1. Reading statistical tables and charts
  2. Recognition of relationships between social class positions and educational achievement.

 

Introduction

 

Sociological studies in advanced industrial countries including the UK have shown that educational achievements (as measured mainly by educational qualifications achieved) are closely related to social class background and that upper and  middle class students on average out perform working class students at all levels of the education system. For example, sociologists from the 1950s onwards have regularly pointed to the progressive under-representation of working class students in:  


 higher streams in primary (i.e. middle schools)
 numbers passing the 11+ examination
 numbers in higher streams in grammar schools and subsequently in comprehensives
 numbers remaining in school after the minimum school leaving age
 numbers passing O levels, gaining high grade GCSE passes and passing A levels
 numbers enrolled on undergraduate courses
 numbers involved in post graduate study.

Despite a wide range of government educational policy initiatives such as the introduction of free secondary schooling for state educated students and apparently fair, objective methods of selection (the 11+ examination) for the different types of school (Grammar, Technical, Secondary Modern) in the new Tripartite system in the 1944 Education Act, the expansion of state expenditure on education, the subsequent recognition of the limitations of the Tripartite Secondary System and its replacement almost everywhere by Comprehensive Secondary Education, the raising of the school leaving age to 15 and subsequently 16, the development of Education Priority Areas , the schools initiatives too numerous to mention of the Thatcher, Major, Blair and Brown administrations and the expansion of opportunities for further and higher education, it can still easily be demonstrated that working class students are less likely to be educationally   successful than are their middle class peers counterparts.

Sources of Data

I shall use eight sources of relevant data on relationships between social class and educational achievement and one source on relationships between educational qualifications and earnings ..

Source 1:Youth Cohort Studies of the educational achievements of 16 year olds 1989-2006 published on the Department for Education and Skills DfES [subsequently DCFS and now DfE] website.

[The 1989-1999 data refer to GCSE Examination results in  for England and Wales whereas the 2001-2006 data refer to England only]

Click here for the YCS Report  on 16 year olds published in 2007. Notice that  the DfE no longer publishes YCS data and that the YCS data here are the latest available.

Parental Occupation [SEG] 1989 1991 1992 1994 1996 1998 1999 2001 2003 2006
Professional/Managerial 52 58 60 66 68 63        
Other Non-manual 42 49 51 58 58 60        
Skilled Manual 21 27 29 36 36 40        
Semi-Skilled Manual 16 20 23 26 29 32        
Unskilled Manual 12 15 16 16 24 20        
Other /Not Classified 15 18 18 20 22 24        
                     
Parental Occupation [NS-SEC]                    
Higher Professional             75 77 76 81
Lower Professional             62 64 65 73
Intermediate             49 51 53 59
Lower Supervisory             34 34 41 46
Routine             26 31 33 42
Other/Not Classified             24 26 33 34

An individual's social class position is often approximated by his/her occupation  but the occupational classification schema used by the UK Government were altered in 2000 so that the statistics for 1989-1998 are not comparable with the statistics for 1999- 2006 .Nevertheless the data do show that children whose parents are in professional and managerial occupations are more likely than children whose parents are in manual occupations to gain 5 or more GCSE A*-C grade passes.

Click here for a diagrammatic presentation of these data for years 1999-2006. [Once you have reached the diagram [chart two] you may also click Sheet 1 or scroll over the diagram itself if you wish to revisit the actual statistics!]

 

Activity

  1. W hat percentages of pupils of Professional/Managerial and Unskilled Manual parents respectively gained 5 or more A*-C GCSE Pass Grades   in 1989 and 1998?
  2. The results of both of these pupil categories improved between 1989 and 1998 but what happened to the difference in results between these two pupil categories?
  3. What percentages of pupils of Higher Professional, Intermediate and Routine Occupation respectively gained 5 or A*-C GCSE Pass Grades in 2004?
  4. How would you describe the relationships between parental social class and educational achievement in general terms?
  5. Suggest three possible reasons for these relationships.

 

Source 2: GCSE Attainment and Free School Meal Eligibility

 

Table : Gender, Free School Meal Eligibility and Percentages of Pupils gaining 5 or more GCSE A*-C  Grades including English and Mathematics 2008/9 - 2012/13 [Source : DFE SFR 2011/2012  and DFE SFR 2012/13 GCSE Attainment and Pupil Characteristics: ]

Pupil Category

% gaining 5 or more A*-C GCSE Grades inc English and Maths in 2008/9

% gaining 5 or more A*-C GCSE Grades  inc English and Maths in 2009/10

% gaining 5 or more A*-C GCSE Grades inc English and maths in 2010/11

% gaining 5 or more A*-C GCSE Grades inc. English and Maths in 2011/12

% gaining 5 or more A*-C GCSE Grades inc. English and Maths in 2012/2013

% gaining 5 or more A*-C GCSE Grades inc English and Maths in 2013/14

%gaining 5 or more A*-C GCSE Grades inc English  and  Maths in 2014/15

Boys FSM

23.4

28.1

31.4

32.0

33.5

29.2 29.3

Girls  FSM

29.9

34.4

37.9

40.6

42.5

38.0 37.2

Total FSM

26.6

31.2

34.6

36.3

37.9

33.5 33.1

Boys NFSM/Unclassified

50.6

55.1

58.3

57.8

59.5

55.4 56.2

Girls NFSM/Unclassified

58.1

62.7

65.8

67.5

69.8

65.7 65.8

Total NFSM/Unclassified

54.3

58.8

62.0

62.6

64.6

60.5 60.9

All Boys

47.1

51.5

54.6

54.3

55.4

51.6 52.5

All Girls

54.4

58.9

61.9

63.6

63.5

61.7 61.8

All Pupils

50.7

55.1

58.2

58.8

59.2

56.6 57.1
Gender Gap-F-M

7.3

7.4 7.3 9.3 8.1 10.1 9.3

Total NFSM-FSM Gap

27.7

27.6

27.4

26.3

26.7

27.0

27.8

 Between 2006/9 and 2014/15 the gender gap fluctuated between 7.3% and 10.1% while the NFSM-FSM gap fluctuated between 26.3% and 27.8% It is very important to note however that as  a result of methodological changes introduced in 2013-2014 results in 2013/14 and 2014/15 are not comparable to earlier results.

 

 

 

Activity

 

1. Using  information in the above table  on Gender, Free School Meal Eligibility and Educational Attainment answer the following questions.

  • What percentage of all boys gained 5 or more A*-C GCSE grades including English and Maths in 2014/15?
  • What percentage of all girls gained 5 or more A*-C GCSE grades including English and Maths in 2014/15?
  • What percentages of boys eligible for FSM and ineligible for FSM/unclassified  gained 5 or more A*-C GCSE grades including English and Maths in 2014/15?

         What percentages of girls eligible for FSM and ineligible for FSM/Unclassified  gained 5 or more A*-C grades including English and Maths in 2014/15?

2. Which factor seems to be the more significant influence on educational achievement :  Gender or Free School Meal Eligibility?

3. Which factor seems to be the more significant influence on educational achievement: gender or social class?

 

 

Click here for a diagrammatic presentation of  data on relationships between eligibility/ineligibility for free school meals 2003-2015. Click here and scroll to pages 10-13  for DfE diagrams on relationships between FSM eligibility, gender , ethnicity and GCE attainment 2013/14.

 Source 2B Links to DFE Data on GCSE Results 2016 and 2017 using the new Measurement criteria

You may  click here    for DFE statistics relating to 2015/16 GCSE results which are  based on this new system. For data on ethnicity, free school meal eligibility and gender scroll down to pp16-25 of the statistical first release. Click here for further information in the accompanying Characteristics National Tables where Table 2a is most useful.

Also click here for DFE statistics relating to 2016/17 GCSE results  For data on ethnicity, free school meal eligibility and gender scroll down to pp22-34  of the statistical first release. Further information can be found in the accompanying Characteristics National Tables where Table 2a is especially useful. New link added January 2018

[Click here BBC item on technicalities of Attainment 8 and progress 8 and here for  a very  technical article]

Click here for calculation of Attainment 8 and here for calculation of Progress 8

Exercise on Ethnicity and Educational Achievement at GCSE Level in the 2017 Examinations

Let us investigate ethnic patterns of achievement using performance in EBacc subjects in 2017 as indicated in Table 2a of the 2018 publication. With regard to English and Mathematics I refer to attainment levels between 9-4 for all pupils. I have copied and pasted the relevant table here but students may also use the above link to refer to separate data for males and females and to  data on Attainment 8 and Progress 8 if they so wish.

 
Table CH2a: GCSE and equivalent entries and achievements of pupils at the end of key stage 4 by ethnicity, free school meal eligibility and gender
Year: 2016/171 (revised)              
Coverage: England, state-funded schools (including Academies and CTCs)2 Please select criteria below:    
      Measure: Percentage achieving the English Baccalaureate (9-4 grades in English and maths) (7)
      Gender: All
  2 35 68   2 35 68
  Number of eligible pupils3   Percentage achieving the English Baccalaureate (9-4 grades in English and maths) (7)
  Pupils known to be eligible for free school meals All other pupils(8) All pupils(9)   Pupils known to be eligible for free school meals All other pupils(8) All pupils(9)
All pupils9 69,261 458,598 527,859   10.3 25.8 23.7
               
White 46,985 359,357 406,342   6.9 24.6 22.5
   white British 44,106 334,002 378,108   6.4 24.2 22.1
   Irish 194 1,482 1,676   10.3 38.1 34.8
   traveller of Irish heritage 66 52 118   x x 3.4
   Gypsy / Roma 325 748 1,073   x x 1.7
   any other white background 2,294 23,073 25,367   18.7 29.4 28.4
Mixed 4,297 19,186 23,483   12.4 29.4 26.3
   white and black Caribbean 1,598 5,440 7,038   7.9 18.8 16.3
   white and black African 541 2,173 2,714   16.6 28.3 26.0
   white and Asian 723 4,424 5,147   11.8 36.7 33.2
   any other mixed background 1,435 7,149 8,584   16.1 33.3 30.4
Asian 8,824 43,963 52,787   19.6 33.1 30.9
   Indian 1,016 12,952 13,968   26.1 43.2 42.0
   Pakistani 4,302 17,021 21,323   15.3 23.7 22.0
   Bangladeshi 2,438 6,436 8,874   23.7 30.9 28.9
   any other Asian background 1,068 7,554 8,622   21.7 39.1 36.9
Black 6,076 21,846 27,922   16.6 25.0 23.2
   black Caribbean 1,574 5,523 7,097   9.7 17.6 15.8
   black African 3,777 13,689 17,466   20.0 28.4 26.6
   any other black background 725 2,634 3,359   14.1 22.7 20.8
Chinese 131 1,942 2,073   52.7 52.6 52.6
any other ethnic group 2,012 6,429 8,441   23.5 31.4 29.5
              Source: key stage 4 attainment data
1.  Includes entries and achievements by these pupils in previous academic years.
2.  State-funded schools include academies, free schools, city technology colleges, further education colleges with provision for 14- to 16-year-olds and state-funded special schools. They exclude independent schools, independent special schools, non-maintained special schools, hospital schools and alternative provision (including pupil referral units, AP free schools and AP academies as well as state-funded AP placements in other institutions).
3.  Pupils at the end of key stage 4 who are included in the measure.
4.  Attainment 8 and Progress 8 are part of the new secondary accountability system that was implemented for all schools from 2016. Users should be cautious when comparing Attainment 8 scores between 2017 and 2016. In 2017, Attainment 8 scores were calculated using slightly different point score scales in comparison to 2016, in order to minimise change following the introduction of 9-1 reformed GCSEs. This means that Attainment 8 scores are likely to look different in 2017, as a result of changes to the methodology.  More information on the calculation of these measures is available in the Progress 8 guidance:
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/progress-8-school-performance-measure              
5.  A Progress 8 score of 1.0 means pupils in the group make on average approximately a grade more progress than the national average; a score of -0.5 means they make on average approximately half a grade less progress than average. Progress 8 scores should be interpreted alongside the associated confidence intervals. If the lower bound of the confidence interval is greater than zero, it can be interpreted as meaning that the group achieves greater than average progress compared to pupils in mainstream schools nationally and that this is statistically significant. If the upper bound is negative, this means that the group achieves lower than average progress compared to pupils in mainstream schools nationally and that this is statistically significant.
6. In 2014/15 and earlier, where the English language and English literature option was chosen in English, exams in both must be taken and a C grade or above achieved in English language. From 2015/16, to meet the English requirement of the A*-C in English and maths attainment measure, a C in either English language or English literature counts and there is no requirement to take both. In 2016/17, following the introduction of the reformed 9 to 1 GCSEs in English, a grade 5 or above in either English language or English literature counts and there remains no requirement to take both in order to achieve a pass. The 9-4 pass shows pupils who achieved a grade 4 or above in either English language or English literature and Mathematics and is shown alongside the headline measure for transparency and comparability.
7. In 2014/15 and earlier, where the English language and English literature option was chosen in EBacc English, exams in both had to be taken and a C grade or above achieved in English language. In 2015/16, to meet the English requirement of the EBacc, exams in both had to be taken and a C grade or above achieved in either English language or English literature. From 2017, the definition of 'percentage achieving the English Baccalaureate' has changed to 'the proportion of pupils achieving the EBacc which includes a grade 5 or above in English and mathematics, and grade C or above in unreformed subjects' following the introduction of the reformed 9 to 1 GCSEs in English and mathematics. Exams in both English literature and English language still have to be taken and a grade 5 or above achieved in one to achieve a pass in the English requirement of the EBacc. The 9-4 pass shows pupils who achieved a grade 4 or above in English and mathematics, and a grade C in unreformed subjects and is shown alongside the headline measure for transparency and comparability.  
8.  Includes pupils not eligible for free school meals (FSM) and for whom FSM eligibility was unclassified or could not be determined.
9.  Includes pupils for whom ethnicity was not obtained, refused or could not be determined or for whom free school meal eligibility was unclassified or could not be determined. This figure also includes pupils at further education (FE) colleges: as FE colleges do not complete the school census, pupils at the end of key stage 4 attending FE colleges are included in the all pupils lines but not in the majority of the characteristics breakdowns. Therefore, there are some cases where the individual characteristics breakdowns will not add up to the all pupils figure. Pupils in FE colleges are included in the free school meals figures from 2015/16 onwards.
               
 .  = Not applicable.               
x = Figures not shown in order to protect confidentiality. See 'confidentiality' within the SFR text for information on data suppression.  
               

 

 

Using the above data answer the following questions

  1.  Rank the broad ethnic categories in terms of the achievement of all pupils [Final Column]
  2. Which is the highest performing and the lowest performing broad ethnic group?
  3. Describe the ethnic differences in attainment within each ethnic category
  4. Notice especially the attainment levels of students in the Traveller of Irish Heritage and Gypsy Roma categories.
  5. Which is the highest performing and and lowest performing "narrow ethnic category"?
  6. Use your calculator to calculate the proportions of pupils eligible for free school meals in each ethnic category
  7. For all pupils what is the percentage gap in attainment between pupils eligible and ineligible for free school meals?
  8. In which broad ethic category is the gap in attainment between pupils eligible and ineligible for free school meals greatest?
  9. What is significant about the gap in attainment between Chinese pupils eligible and ineligible for free school meals?
  10. Can you give any reasons why the attainment gap between pupils eligible and ineligible for free school meals varies as between different ethnic groups.?
  11.  Discuss these statistics with your fellow students. Any other insights?
  12. You will also find that females out perform males in every ethnic category and that it is white boys eligible for free school meals who perform particularly badly.
  13. The overall attainment gap between pupils eligible for free school meals and pupils ineligible for free school meals is greater than the overall attainment gap between female and male students. Numerically this occurs because the FSM eligibility gap is very high [18.2%] for white British students who account for a very large proportion of the total student population. However in several ethnic categories [Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Black Caribbean , Chinese] the gender attainment gap is greater than the FSM eligibility attainment gap. [You would need to look at other Characteristics National tables to confirm this latter point.]
  14.  Write two paragraphs summarising the relationships between ethnicity, gender , free school meal eligibility and attainment at GCSE level

 

Sociologists have suggested three main types of explanation for the above relationships between ethnicity, free school meal eligibility and educational achievement.

         It is suggested that eligibility for free school meals is an imperfect measure of the relative economic  deprivation suffered by pupils of different ethnic groups and that more accurate measures of economic deprivation would show that economic deprivation is a more important explanatory factor than the free school meals data suggest.[ As mentioned, several methods may be used to measure levels of economic deprivation but the comparison of these methods is technically complex and I shall not consider this point any further here. ]

         It is suggested that the differential educational achievements of different ethnic groups may be explained partly by a range of cultural factors operative for some ethnic groups  so that some ethnic groups are more successful than others in overcoming the effects of material deprivation. It is widely believed  Indian and Chinese families are especially likely to value education highly and that these cultural attitudes enable poor Indian and Chinese students to offset more effectively the effects of poverty.

          Note that on the basis of the above data the NFSM-FSM discrepancy is smaller in all ethnic minority groups than it is among white students.

         Others have is suggested that the cultural differences between ethnic groups have been much overstated and that  instead a range of processes internal to the schools themselves may operate to the relative disadvantage of some ethnic groups rather than others. Thus for example poor Afro-Caribbean students and also poor white students may be more likely than poor Chinese and Indian students to experience negative labelling in schools.

The gaps in attainment for white pupils eligible and ineligible for free school meals are greater than for any other ethnic group and this has generated considerable concern as to the prospects of white working class students although free school meal eligibility is a less than perfect measure of social class membership. This topic will be considered in more detail presently.

 

Click here for data on Free School Meal Eligibility and access to Higher Education.  Click here for more recent data

Source 3

The Coalition's Record on Schools: Policy, Spending and Outcomes 2010-2015 by Ruth Lupton and  Stephanie Thomson . This is  a first class paper providing  detailed, insightful information on Coalition schools policies. Scroll down to page 45-47 for detailed data and diagrams on educational attainment and free school meal eligibility. There are one or two technicalities here that you may need to discuss with your teachers!

 

Source 4: Attainment at Level 2 [ =attainment of 5 or more GCSEs at Grades A*-C or equivalent qualifications ] and Level 3 [attainment of 2 or more A levels or equivalent qualifications]

Click here  for a DFE document entitled Level 2 and Level 3 attainment by young people in England. You may then scroll down to page 8 of this document for the Section on Free School Meal Eligibility which shows attainment by FSM and the attainment gap between the FSM group and their peers at Levels 2 and 3 between 2009 and 2013. It will be seen that both of these attainment gaps are substantial and have changed little in recent years. You may summarise these results here.

Source 5: Focus on Social Inequality [Edited by P. Babb J. Matin and P.Haezewindt ONS 2004] provides data on relationships between social class [measured by parental occupation] and participation in Higher Education .

Percentages of 18-21 Year Olds Participating in Higher Education and Type of Parental Occupation.

 

1960

1970

1980

1990

1995

2001

2007/8: All students

[NS SEC data]

2007/8:Female students

[NS SEC data] 

2007/8: Male students

NS SEC data]

Non-Manual %

27

32

33

37

47

50

41.2 45.6 37.2

Manual %

4

5

7

10

17

19

21.0 24.5 17.8

Total %

5

8

12

19

32

35

     

The above data indicate that, for example, in 1960 27% of the children of parents in non-manual occupations participated in Higher Education compared with 4% of the children of parents in manual occupations. Also in 1960 only 5% of all 18-21 year olds   participated in Higher Education.

The final columns of the table are s taken from a 2009 Department of Business, Innovation and Skills  Paper distinguishing between Higher Education Participation Rates of  male and female students from NS SEC Classes1, 2 and 3 and NS SEC Classes 4,5,6 and7.  Clearly the 2007/8 data are based upon different social class schema and are therefore not fully comparable with the previous data.

Click here for a diagrammatic presentation of these data. [However I have not included the more recent DBIS statistics in this diagram since they are not fully comparable with the earlier data]

Source 6 Widening Participation in Higher Education [Department for Business , Innovation and Skills July 2015]: New Link added July 2015

Click here and scroll to Page 4 Table 1 for information on differences in access to Higher Education between pupils eligible and ineligible for Free School Meals  2005/6- 2012/13. Access to HE for pupils eligible  for free school meals increased significantly but the access gap between those eligible and ineligible for free school meals narrowed only slightly .

 

Activity

  1. What has happened to total participation in Higher Education since 1960?
  2. Briefly describe the differences in access to Higher Education between the children of non-manual occupation parents and of manual occupation parents.
  3.  Give three brief reasons why children of manual occupation parents are less likely than the children of non–manual occupation parents to participate in Higher Education.
  4. At some point you may need to investigate the possible effects of higher tuition fees on access to Higher Education.  

 

Source 7: Office of National Statistics Data 2011  indicate that  individuals ’ educational qualifications have a major impact on their earnings potential .

Source 8.  The Educational Backgrounds of the UK Professional Elite [Sutton Trust Report] March 2016

Approximately 7% of UK pupils are educated in private schools and privately educated pupils[ especially those from prestigious Public Schools such as Eton and Harrow are disproportionately more like to secure employment in elite occupations. The above report provides very detailed information on this issue . It also has a clear concise Executive Summary.

 Conclusion

The data used in this document suggest that there are very significant social class differences in educational achievement and also that higher educational achievements are associated with higher earnings.

  • The Youth Cohort Study data indicate strong relationships between parental social class and educational achievement at GCSE level. [Source 1}

Taken in combination these findings mean that many working class children are themselves unlikely to earn high incomes in adult life because of their limited educational qualifications. Class advantage is to some extent transmitted from generation to generation although many working class children are successful in education and socially mobile in their employment careers..

In the following documents  we shall investigate in more detail the relationships between social class membership and educational achievement before turning to relationships between gender and educational achievement and "race" , ethnicity and educational achievement.