Why has the Achievement Gap Between Private and State Schools Increased?

Possible explanations include less disruption to schooling, more parental pressure and higher prior attainment

Teachers in private schools awarded 70% of A-level entries A or A* grades in 2021, compared to just 45% for all exam entries across both state and private schools.

And the proportion of top grades awarded to candidates from private schools increased at a faster rate than for state schools – the A/ A* rate rose by 9% in 2021 compared to 2020 in private schools, but only by 6% elsewhere.

Why have private school candidates improved at a faster rate than state school candidates?

This article from The Guardian suggests that there are three possible reasons for the rapid improvement of private school pupils.

  • Private school students’ learning may have been less disrupted by school closures and forced isolation for individual students than was the case with state schools – private schools generally have smaller class sizes than state schools and so it would be easier for teachers to manage online learning and classroom learning at the same time.
  • Middle class parents may have been better able to home-school their children during school closures due to their higher levels of cultural capital.
  • Teachers in private schools may have been under more pressure from paying parents to inflate their children’s grades – this may not even be conscious, but parents are paying for a service, and if the teachers don’t deliver when they have the opportunity to do so (when THEY determine the grades, not the examiners), this could make the parents question what they are spending their money on?!?
  • The difference might also be due to the higher prior levels of learning among privately schooled students – state school students simply may have got further behind because of year 1 of disruption the year before, and this is an accumulative affect.

Relevance to A-Level Sociology

This update has clear links to the sociology of education, especially the topic on social class and educational achievement, fitting in quite nicely as supporting evidence for how material and cultural capital advantages students from wealthier backgrounds.

It should also be of interest to any state school student who generally likes to feel enraged by social injustice.

The 2021 A-Level ‘Teacher Awarded Grades’ – Incomparable with 2019’s but more Valid?

Nearly double the amount of students received top grades in 2021 compared to 2019:

While a politician might try to convince you these two sets of results are measuring the same thing, it’s obvious to anyone that they are not.

The 2021 results are ‘Teacher Awarded Grades’, they are not the same thing as the 2019 exam results (NB this doesn’t necessarily mean the 2021 results are ‘worse’ or ‘less valid’ than 2019s, it might be the the former and all previous years’ results which lacked validity).

The 2019 results measured the actual performance of students under exam conditions, we can call those ‘exam results’.

The 2021 results were ‘teacher awarded grades’ based on some kind of in-house assessment, and marked in-house.

And this difference in assessment and marking procedures seems to be the most likely candidate which can explain the huge increase in top grades.

NB – this means there is no reliability between the results in 2020 and 2021 and all previous results, there is a ‘reliability break’ if you like, no comparison can be made because of this.

This is quite a nice example of that key research methods concept of (lack of) reliability.

The 2019 exam procedure

The 2019 results measured what students actually achieved in standardised A-level examinations –

  1. ALL students sat the same set of exams prepared by an exam-board at the same time and under broadly similar conditions.
  2. It is guaranteed that students would have sat these exams blind.
  3. All exam work was assessed independently by professional examiners
  4. The work was moderated by ‘team leaders’.

What this means is that you’ve got students all over England and Wales being subjected to standardised procedures, everyone assessed in the same way.

The 2021 Teacher Awarded Grade procedure

  1. Schools and teachers set their own series of in-house assessments, no standardisation across centres.
  2. There is no guarantee about how blind these assessments were or any knowledge about the conditions, no standardisation across centres.
  3. Teachers marked their own in-house assessments themselves – in small centres (private schools) this may well have been literally by the same teacher as taught the students, in larger centres more likely the marking was shared across several teachers in the same department, but not necessarily, we don’t know.
  4. There was no external moderation of teacher assessed work, at least not in the case of regular exam based A-levels.

You have to be a politician to be able claim the above two procedures are in the remotest bit compatible!

They are clearly so different that you can’t compare 2019’s results with 2021s, there’s been a radical shift in the means of the assessment, this is a socially constructed process of grade-inflation.

So which is the more valid set of results – 2019s or 2021s?

IF the purpose of grades is to give an indication of student’s ability in a subject then maybe this years results are more valid than 2019s?

I’m no fan of formal examinations, and the one big advantage of 2021 is that there were none, allowing more time for teaching and learning, and less time worrying about exam technique, and probably a lot less stress all round. (the later not the case in 2020).

This year’s assessment procedures would probably have been more natural (had more ecological validity) than a formal examination – it’s hard to get more artificial than an exam after all.

And of course the students are the big winners, more of them have higher grades, and no doubt those that have them are chuffed – and Ive nothing against more young people having something good happen to them, lord knows they have enough problems in their lives now and going forwards as it is!

The problem with the 2021 model is the lack of objectivity and standardisation – we simply don’t know which of those students would have actually got an A or A* under standardised conditions – certainly not all of them, so possibly we don’t know who is the best at exams.

But does the later matter? Do we really need to know who is marginally better at performing under the artificiality of exams anyway?

When it comes the job market further down the line, it’s unlikely that A-level exam performance will have that much baring on someone’s ability to do a job, so maybe it’s better that more students won’t have a string of Cs held against them as would have been the case for the 2019 and previous cohorts.

And someone’s ability to do a job can be determined with a rigorous interview procedure, after all.

The difficult decision is going to be what we do with next year’s results, assuming that exams are re-instated – IF the class of 2022 come out with a spread of results similar to 2019 rather than 2021, that doesn’t seem like a fair outcome to me.

Find out More

The Education Policy Institute has an objective analysis of the 2021 A-level results.

A-level Sociology Students -same study patterns during lockdown?

Here’s some interesting insight into the study patterns of students and how Lockdown doesn’t seem to be having any affect at all so far this year……

Here’s my blog hits since August 2020….

NB – despite an increase in traffic this year (which is nice) the pattern you see below has been exactly the same for the last few years….

There is a dip in August, over the summer holiday, but a slow build up in early September – I guess as schools but not colleges start earlier, and then we have a stable weekly trend from September through to mid December, except for a dip when half term week comes – NB there is always a slow down on that last week before half term too.

There’s a significant dip during the XMAS holidays, but that’s to be expected, and then straight back up into January, and not how the half term dip repeats itself.

The final pink line is this week’s already only up to Tuesday, so looks like a bumper week – probably teachers threatening tests on the return in a couple of weeks.

Here’s the daily trend for the last month – you can see the weekend tail off too, every week, and then the half term dip at the end, and finally Monday – first day back after half term.

There will be some differences later this year I think….

There’s no formal exams, probably to be replaced by in house tests which will be earlier than the usual exams I imagine, so I’m not anticipating the usual May-June insane peak in views, I imagine it will be less intense and more spread out as the dates of tests will vary slightly from institution to instiution.

Still, up until now, students are very much creatures of habit. Perhaps Positivists had a point? People really are predictable!

Please click here to return to the main ReviseSociology home page!

‘GCSEs and A-Levels scrapped’ – but I wouldn’t relax just yet!

So on Wednesday the government announced that exams in England and Wales are to be scrapped in favour of ‘assessed grades’.

But does this may not necessarily mean you’ll be able to chillax for the next 6 months!

Given that this government has a track record of being reactive rather than pro-active in responding to Covid-19 – lurching from one inadequate response to another and U-turning dramatically where education is concerned, I wouldn’t bet on GCSE and A-level grades just being put entirely in the hands of teachers just yet.

Sure, that’s the message, but I’d be amazed if this scenario doesn’t develop further over the next few weeks with the education department putting in place some kind of centralised dictate that all schools and colleges must subject their students to some kind of controlled assessment which are basically just like the regular GCSEs and A-levels.

And the nature of the assessment will be set centrally, by the exam boards, who otherwise will just be laying around idle for another year (no exams means nothing to do) – I mean presumably if the government are paying these boards’ wages surely they’re going to get them to bodge something together in the next few weeks.

There will probably be some degree of flexibility over when students can sit said assessments, and probably some kind of sampling and standardisation procedure put in place, but I can’t imagine that the department for education is just going to ‘let schools get on with it’.

I mean, they haven’t done that with lockdown in general, why on earth are they going to give schools an easier-ride now and ‘trust teachers’, they only did that last year under an extreme public backlash, so it’s highly unlikely they’re just going to allow teachers the freedom to just ‘carry on and teach and assess’ as they see fit all the way through to June!

Sociological Perspectives on the 2020 Exam results fiasco

What a mess this years exam results were!

First of all students get awarded their results based primarily on an algorithm, which adjusted center predicted grades up or down depending on how their historical results records.

Then those results were scrapped in favour of the original teacher predicted grades, awarded several months ago, unless the algorithm grade was better!

And finally, amidst all that chaos, BTEC students just get forgotten about with the publication of their results being delayed.

Unfortunately there isn’t a ‘total balls up’ perspective in Sociology, as that would most definitely be the best fit to explain what occurred, and I’m not sure that any one perspective can really explain what’s going on, but there some concepts we can apply….

Marxism

A basic tenet of Marxism applied to education is that the education system tends to benefit the middle classes more than the working classes, and especially the 7% of privately schooled kids compared to other 93% who are educated in state school.s

The algorithm which was used to adjust teacher predicted grades benefitted those from higher class backgrounds more than from lower class backgrounds.

You’ll need to follow the Twitter threads below for the evidence…

The Power of Popular Protest

However, students protested…..

And as we all know, the algorithm was overturned, and we ended up with teacher predicted grades being the basis for results (unless the algorithm gave students a better result of course!).

So in this case the system did try to to screw the working classes, but popular protest managed a small victory.

NB – it’s worth pointing out that Independently schooled kids probably still have better results on average than working class kids, so while this may feel like a victory, it’s maybe no big deal really?

Labelling Theory

I think there’s an interesting application here in relation to teacher predicted grades – clearly teachers have exaggerated these as much as they can, because the results on average are nearly a grade up compared to last year – which is a great example of teachers positively labelling their students in terms of giving them the highest grades they might have achieved.

It kind of shows you that, at the end of the day, teachers are more positive about their students than negative.

For one year only, we’ve got results based on labels, the projections in teachers’ heads rather than being based on objectively measured performance. In some cases over the next year we are going to see the limitations of labelling theory – just because a teacher says someone is capable of getting 5 good GCSEs doesn’t mean they are going to be able to cope with A levels rather than BTECs at college.

Keep in mind that some of the teacher predicted rates are going to be utter fantasy, and not every case is going to end up in a self-fulfilling prophecy – there are going to be a lot of failures at A-level as thousands of over-predicted students can’t cope.

Probably less so at universities – they need the money from tuition fees, so they’ll probably just lower their standards for this cohort.

Functionalism

You may think that this has no relevance, HOWEVER, the system hasn’t collapsed, has it?

There was a bit of a blip, a few people got upset and protested, and now this year’s students have ended up with much better results than last year’s students based on teacher predicted grades which are clearly about as exaggerated as they can get away with.

And now we’re all heading back to college and university and things are going to go back to the ‘new normal’, without anything very much changing, despite the fact that so many flaws have been revealed in how the exam system works.

I’d say this whole fiasco has been a pretty good example of a system coping well with a crisis and coming out the other side relatively unscathed.

Postmodernism and Late Modernism

The extent to which these apply is a bit of a mixed bag….

The government certainly showed a high degree of uncertainty about how to award results, resulting in wide spread chaos, which certainly seems to fit in which the postmodern perspective.

However, that’s about as far as it goes I think…. students and parents alike showed an utter contempt for being ruled by an algorithim, which is one of the primary mechanisms of social control in post/ late modern societies (via actuaralism) – and yet when its workings are brought to light, people resisted – they wanted justice and meritocracy rather than this bizarre way of managing selves.

Also the fact that people actually seem to care about their results and want a sense of justice isn’t really postmodern – it’s a very modernist concern, to be interested in one’s education and future career, and I get the feeling that rather than kicking back and enjoying their postmodern leisure time, students have just been generally worried about their results and their future.

So there’s been a high level of uncertainty and fear/ worry, that’s quite postmodern, but the fact that people actually care about education, that’s more modernist….

‘Results’ Day

Students like to think that their exam results are primarily down their own individual effort and ability (their ‘merit’ if you like), and these are two of the factors which influence their exam results.

However, the results statistics clearly show us that social factors such as parental income, wider social class background, gender and ethnicity clearly impact the results.

To put it in stark terms: being born to middle class Indian parents gives you a much better chance of getting 3 A grades at A-level compared to being born to white working-class parents.

Granted, that within your ‘cultural’ grouping, individual factors such as raw intelligence and ability are going to effect results, in some cases that ability and effort will be so outstanding that some white working class kids will do better than some middle class Indian kids, but on average, social factors effect the results too.

Thus, you could say that we end up skewed, unfair results every year, because the exam results are at least partially measuring class, gender and ethnic background.

The school that pupils attend also has an ‘effect’, on average, with some schools getting persistently good results, mainly the independent schools, a few schools seemingly doomed to failure, and most schools chugging along somewhere in the middle.

However, that said, at least when individual students sit exams, they are assessed by the same standards, and ranked against each other according to those same standards, and they can move up and down from their ‘class/ gender/ ethnicity’ base-average  depending on their individual effort and ability, or lack of either, so in that sense, exams are fair.

What usually happens once all the exams have been marked, according to the same standards, is that the chief examiners look at the spread of results, and then decide what raw mark translates to a pass grade (an E grade), and what amount of raw marks counts for an A* grade.

Generally speaking, the 2 boundaries – U/E and upper A* yield similar percentages each year – in Sociology it’s around a 98% pass rate and a 5% A* rate (NB that is from memory so excuse any inaccuracy), and then within that students receive A-E grades relative to other people, with everyone having sat the same exam.

The 2020 Results Fiasco

This ‘standardisation’ of students sitting the same exam and then those exams being marked according to the same standards didn’t happen this year because students have not sat exams.

Instead, exam results were based on teacher predicted grades , and then modified according to a black-box algorithm, which, as I understand it, took account of factors such as the track-record of the school.

The problem with results being based on teacher predictions

On the face of it, teachers are the ones best place to decide what grades their students would have got, had they sat the exams: they know their students, they have evidence from at least a year’s worth of work.

The problem is that teachers don’t use the same standards to mark work – some are harsh, some are soft, having different theories about the best way to motivate students, so if mark-book grades are to be used as evidence, students are not being assessed in the same way.

A second problem is that teachers will inflate the predicted grades, at least most of them will – it’s a competitive system, so of course you’re going to game the results up as far as you can without the grades looking like a complete fantasy.

Different teachers and schools will have different comfort levels about how far to push these grades. Some would have actually been professional and given accurate grades, so that’s another reason why teacher and institution grades aren’t a great way of awarding results.

However, the strength of this system is that even if teachers have exaggerated results, they should have exaggerated them in line with their perceived effort and ability of their pupils, so at least it takes into account these individual level factors.

Enter the algorithm

Hence why the exams authority moderated the results – they know there is bias between institutions. And at the end of the day, we’ve ended up with overall results which are slightly better than previous years, which seams, on average, a fair way to do it.

By the logic of an algorithm which works on averages, that is fair – for this year’s students, on average, to come out with slightly better results.

Assuming the algorithm has tweaked all the students results in one institution across all subjects to the same degree, we should have fair individual level results too.

The problem

In a nutshell, it’s cases like these….

As I understand it the problem is that some schools especially have been penalised more than others, especially rapidly improving schools, and any school where the teachers have been stupid enough to be honest about predicted grades, their pupils would have lost out massively too.

I’m not sure how representative these case studies are, TBH I think they’re in a minority, but honestly, it’s not great for those students involved!

Is it this year’s Scottish Exam Results that Have No Validity, or just the System Itself?

Now that the Scottish exam results have reverted back to those based on teacher predictions, students have done MUCH better than previous years, around 10-12% improvement, or over a grade compared to previous years.

To put this in a chart – here’s what it looks like: The middle column is what the results were last year, the last column is what they now are, with the government’s U turn.

2016-19 Ave2020 SQA moderated2020 teacher predictions
national 578.681.188.6
higher76.578.988.8
advanced higer80.484.992.8

To display this graphically – we’ve leapt from blue to yellow, while even with moderation (red) that kind of increase is just about feasible, even if unlikely.

It is highly unlikely that this year’s students on average would have achieved 10-12 % points higher than the previous year’s students, had they sat their exams, had there been no disruption.

Had they sat the exams, they would have been moderated by the exam boards so that the pass rate and A* rate was broadly in line with previous years, and then the spread of results would have probably also been broadly similar.

What’s happened instead this year is that we now have results based on teacher predictions, rather than ‘pure moderation’ by the exam boards, which broadly keeps things in line year on year.

In case you don’t know, what the exam moderating authorities do with actual exam results, is they look at the raw marks, and then tweak the fail/ pass and A* raw mark boundaries so that there’s a similar percentage passing and achieving high grades every year, but now they’ve had that power stripped from them.

Now the grades are based purely on teacher predictions and teachers always over-predict, it doesn’t take much explaining to figure out why – because of the competitive education system, and it’s one of the few rules you can bend as a teacher, so nearly every teacher does it, because they know every other teacher does it!

TBH I don’t think either system is that valid. You’ve seen the results year on year, it’s highly unlikely that there’s going to be a gradual trend upwards, without there ever being a single ‘spike year’ – but that’s what you get when exam moderating authorities ‘control’ the grades every year – a gradual increase gives the impression of credibility.

Teacher predictions might well have more credibility, because they actually know the students, but there is a problem of reliability when, for just one year, this year, 2020, you allow exam results to be determined by teachers, and then you get a massive spike compared to previous years.

Students who sat exams in 2017 to 2019 should be complaining

Students from the last three years are the one’s who are being harmed by this unjust political interference – not only do they now have a worse track record of exam results compared to this year’s students, these are the students who are now graduating into a world of contracted employment, so they’re going to have ‘worse’ results, and a longer period of unemployment on their CVs.

This year’s students by contrast, if they’re going on to 2-5 years of FE/ HE, the chances are the economy will be recovering by the time they graduate, so they’ll have a better education record and less of a track history of unemployment.

Glasgow Live: Exam Results Glasgow 2020

The Guardian

The BBC

A-Level Sociology Teaching Resources: Education Policies and Education Planning:

The Latest June 2020 additions to the Sociology Teaching Resource Subscription

I’ve just released some more extensive lesson plans, workbooks and Power Points for sale as part of my sociology teaching resources subscription package, available for only £9.99 a month!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is sociology-teaching-resources-724x1024.png

This teaching resource bundle contains work books and Power Points covering eight lessons on the Perspectives on the Sociology of Education

Resources in June’s bundle include

  1. Education Policies: Historical Context, 1944 and 1965
  2. The 1988 Education Act
  3. New Labour’s Policies
  4. The Coalition and New Right policies
  5. Exploring selection and the priviatisation of education
  6. Should we abolish independent schools debate
  7. Globalisation and education
  8. Vocational education

Resources in the bundle include:

  • One workbook on Education policies, including privatisation, selection and globalisation.
  • Four Power Points covering most of the above lessons (not for riots or the corporate crime research lesson.
  • Eight lesson plans covering all of the above lessons.
  • Various supplementary hand-outs for some of the above lessons as necessary.

Education Planning Material

In addition to the above I also include all the education planning material for all 24 lessons in the education section (April, May and June’s updates for 2020). This includes:

  • A full student scheme of work with details of concepts, research studies, assessment Qs and links to blog posts
  • An overview scheme of work
  • All lesson plans

Fully modifiable resources

Every teacher likes to make resources their own by adding some things in and cutting other things out – and you can do this with both the work pack and the PowerPoints because I’m selling them in Word and PPT, rather than as PDFs, so you can modify them!

NB – I have had to remove most the pictures I use personally, for copyright reasons, but I’m sure you can find your own to fit in. It’s obvious where I’ve taken them out!

More resources to come…

I’m making resources available every month as part of this teacher resource subscription package. The schedule of release of resources is as below:

  • July – September 2020 – Families and Households Resources
  • October – December 2020 – Research Methods, including methods applied to education 
  • January – April 2021 – Global Development 
  • May – August 2021 – Crime and Deviance 
  • September – October 2021 – Theory and Methods 
  • November 2021 – January 2022 – Revision Material
  • February 2022 – Intro material. 

Please note this is a change to the original schedule of release, which I’ve changed due to the recent exam cancellations!

A-level sociology of education: course summary, schemes of work and lesson plans

I’ve been consolidating my A-level sociology planning recently, and I’ve concluded it’s useful to have several different versions of module summaries and schemes of work, as below:

  • A mind map overview/ summary
  • A Power Point overview/ summary
  • A brief scheme of work
  • A long scheme of work
  • Detailed individual lesson plans.

All of these are based on the AQA’s specification, for the education topic.

Mind map overview of education

This is mind map number 1, the Borg equivalent of Unimatrix Zero. There are many other mind maps which branch off it – each colour thread itself becomes the central focus for more mind maps!

Power Point overview of education

Should need no explanation, about as brief as it can get.

Brief education Scheme of Work

A very brief version to be displayed in classrooms, an at a glance’ version so students can see where they are in the course and what’s coming next.

Long education Scheme of Work

This is a grid consisting of sub-topics, concepts, research studies, assessment and resources for each sup-topic. This more in-depth version follows the AQA specification rigidly and should include everything students need to know.

NB this is slightly different to the overview and lesson plans as some ‘lessons’ go beyond the specification or fuse different areas of it together.

Linear versions of all of the above.

Some students may prefer the linear versions of the above, which can be quite useful if used as check lists.

Detailed Lesson Plans  

These are really for teachers only, and contain detailed minute by minute lesson plans with aims and objectives, resources and extension ideas.

New Resource: Sociology of Education teaching bundle.

All of the above are available as part of my ‘sociology of education teaching bundle’. One downloadable bundle including fully modifiable teaching resources in Microsoft Word and PowerPoint. Only £49.99, or as part of a monthly subscription package for £9.99 a month!

The bundle includes:

  • A detailed scheme of work covering the entire AQA specification for the Education topic 
  • 24 detailed lesson plans (topics below)
  • Six student work packs on Perspectives, class, gender, ethnicity and education policies. 
  • PowerPoints to accompany most lessons. 
  • Activities such as role play games, sentence sorts, gap fills. 

NB I have had to remove most of the pictures from these materials for copyright reasons, but the idea is that you can always add these in yourself to beautify them!

Lessons covered:

  1. An introduction to the sociology of education  
  2. The Functionalist perspective on education
  3. The Marxist perspective on education
  4. Neo-Marxism/ Paul Willis’ Learning to Labour
  5. The Neoliberal and New Right perspective on education
  6. The Postmodern view of education
  7. Consolidation Education Assessment Lesson – focussing on exam technique for the different types of question
  8. Exploring education, surveillance and social control.
  9. Social class and education: introduction and the role of material deprivation
  10. Social class and education: cultural deprivation and cultural capital
  11. Social class and education: the role of in school factors
  12. Ethnicity and education: introduction, material deprivation and cultural factors
  13. Ethnicity and education: the role of in-school factors
  14. Ethnicity and education: are schools institutionally racist?
  15. Gender and education: explaining gender differences in educational achievement
  16. Gender and education: gender identity in schools, subject choice and the Radical Feminist Perspective
  17. Education Policies: Historical Context, 1944 and 1965
  18. The 1988 Education Act
  19. New Labour’s Policies
  20. The Coalition and New Right policies
  21. Exploring selection and the priviatisation of education
  22. Should we abolish independent schools debate
  23. Globalisation and education
  24. Vocational education