How does Educational Achievement Vary by Ethnicity?

a look at how GCSE, A-level and degree results vary by ethnic group in England and Wales.

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The Department for Education makes it very easy to access statistics on educational achievement. Below I summarise some of the recent trends in educational achievement in England and Wales by ethnicity and offer some commentary on what I think needs explaining, and some thoughts on the limitations of these statistics

Average attainment 8 Score by Ethnic group 2018

Attainment 8 is a way of representing all GCSE results as a single percentage!

The average score for all ethnic groups together was 46.5/90. It’s no surprise to find this is very close to the ‘White British group as White British children still make up the vast majority of school children.

To my mind the headline figures from the above statistics are as follows

  • White, Pakistani and Black African children have results very close to the national average of 46.5, and Bangladeshi children achieved 3% higher. All of these figures are quite close together and so nothing really needs explaining for these broad groups.
  • Chinese children achieve 18% higher than the national average
  • Indian children 10% higher
  • Black Caribbean children underachieve by about 7% points
  • Irish Traveler and Gypsy Roma children have the worst underacheivement levels with 18% and 22% respectively.

So what needs explaining from the above is why Chinese and Indian children do so well, and why Black Carribean children underachieve, and why Irish traveler and Gypsy Roma children do so badly.

In terms of impact of research it’s probably worth focusing on Chinese, Indian and Black Caribbean children because there are many more of these than of the last two ethnic groups.

A final point to note about these statistics is that it doesn’t seem useful to lump together ‘Black’ and Asian’ students because there are SIGNIFICANT differences in the achievement rates within these groups.

Educational Achievement (attainment 8) by Free School Meals and Ethnicity

If we look at GCSE results by free school meal eligibility (roughly the poorest sixth of children) we see that ethnicity still has an independent effect on achievement – the pattern is broadly the same as in the chart above, but with the following two differences:

  • No free school meal children (roughly the wealthiest 5/6ths of children) move closer together slightly.
  • For the FSM groups, white and mixed children are now the lowest achievers, suggesting that poor white and mixed kids do comparatively worse than poor kids from all other ethnic groups.

NB – I think the DFE here is doing a cunning job of disguising the fact that ‘income’ has a larger affect on results than ethnicity – we are seeing here the poorest 1/6th (FSM) compared to the richest 5/6ths (No FSM). If we were to stretch this out and compare just the poorest 1/6th (which we’ve got) to the richest 1/6th my guess would be that you’d find very similar levels of achievement across what would be the upper middle classes for all ethnic groups.

Statistics on Participation in Further Education

This demonstrates a long standing trend – that ethnic minorities (Black and Asian) students are more likely to carry on into further education compared to white students. This should mean that you’ll see a higher proportion of white kids starting work based apprenticeships.

NB – making comparisons to the overall population is a bit misleading as the age profile for ethnic minorities tends to be younger.

Students achieving at least 3 As at A-level

The overall average is 12.9%.

These are quite interesting.

  • Huge ‘over-achievement’ by Chinese kids – 22.5%
  • Indian kids do slightly better than average at 15%
  • Signficant underachievement for Pakistani and Bangladeshi kids – around 7%
  • Terrible underachievement for Black African and Caribbean kids at 5.6% and 3.5% respectively.
  • The source notes that the Irish Traveler population is only 7 people, so one can’t generalize, still, at least it busts a few stereotypes!

These stats show something of an exaggeration of what we saw at GCSE.

I put these stats in the ‘interesting but not that useful’ category – I’d rather see the percentages for high grades or A-C grades to make these a bit more representative.

Degree results by ethnicity

Surprisingly, we see white students gaining significant ground on ethnic minority students with 30.9% of white students gaining a first class degree (*).

Black students in comparison come crashing down to just 14% of first class degrees.

These kind of differences – from similar GCSE results for Black and White students to such different A-level and degree results need further investigation.

(1)The education statistics above form part of the government’s Ethnicity Facts and Figures series, you can check out a wider range of statistical evidence on ethnicity and life chances by clicking here. (As always, remember to be critical of the limitations of these statistics!).

(*) WTF – 30% – sorry kids, but a lot of those first class degrees are probably down to grade inflation, which in turn is probably down to the fact that students are now paying £30 K for yer for their degrees.

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