Exclusive: Schools in the North East top rankings to challenge claims of a national divide

Official claims of a North-South divide in England’s school standards are debunked by a new analysis for TES which shows that schools in the North East outperform all other regions on GCSE and Sats results when pupil background is taken into account.

The analysis, carried out by Education Datalab, shows that the region’s schools had the highest scores in the country in 2015 for “contextual value added”, a measure that assesses pupils’ progress and takes into account a range of contextual factors including gender, ethnicity, deprivation, special educational needs and whether English is an additional language.

The figures cast doubt on Sir Michael Wilshaw’s claim that the region’s schools are underperforming. The Ofsted chief inspector said that this was part of an “alarming” North-South divide.

Education secretary Nicky Morgan has also raised concerns about a regional divide. In November, she said: “It’s a sad truth that when you look at many of the underperforming local authorities in our country, a significant proportion are located in the North of England.”

Becky Allen, director of Education Datalab, told TES that emphasising a “North-South divide” created a “rather simplistic narrative on schools”.

“Regions are far too large and diverse to make generalisations,” she said.

An Ofsted spokesperson said: “Our inspections always take into account the progress made by pupils from their starting points. However, we do not use contextual value added figures because we want to set high expectations for all pupils.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said the government was investing £5 million in academy sponsors to “help turn around underperforming schools across the North of England”.

Are North and South really poles apart? See this week’s TES cover feature (free to subscribers).

This is an edited version of an article in the 29 January edition of TES. Subscribers can view the full story here, or to subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. You can also download the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick up TES magazine, available at all good newsagents.

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