Reducing London’s disadvantage gap.

Mind-the-GapThere is much talk of the educational performance gap between disadvantaged students, eligible for free school meals (FSM), and their peers. One measure of success for sixth form students is progression to university of students reaching the end of their advanced programmes (KS5). So what does the data about different types of post-16 providers tell us about how well disadvantaged students do relative to their peers?

A simple way to measure this ‘disadvantage gap’ is to compare the HE progression rates of both groups and subtract the non-FSM rate from the FSM rate; the difference is the ‘gap’. Nationally, for school sixth forms, this gap is -3% for progression to university and -11% for progression to the ‘top’ third of most selective universities. So it seems the gap gets worse the more selective the university. There may be several reasons for this including differences in choice of subject or differential grade profiles and these differences would merit further research.

For London, progression rates are well above the national average across the board but there are marked differences between different types of sixth form. The most recent year for which there is data is 2013. In that year the city’s school sixth forms (not including sixth form centres and consortia) had a disadvantage gap for progression to university of -3% , exactly the same as the national gap. These data cover 2,855 FSM students across 307 schools, an average of 9 per school.

However, in the city’s 12 sixth form colleges the position is quite different and disadvantaged FSM students actually progress at a slightly higher rate than their non-FSM peers with a +3% gap; putting FSM students at a distinct advantage relative to those in school sixth forms. These data cover 1,208 FSM students, an average of 100 per college.

The position is even more marked for progression to the ‘top’ third of most selective universities.

For this group of universities, the disadvantage gap for school sixth forms in London was -19% based on 582 students, less than 2 per school on average. For the capital’s sixth form colleges the gap was -6%, a disadvantage relative to their non-FSM peers, but still a much better performance than in school sixth forms. These data are based on 275 college students, an average of 23 per college.

So this analysis shows that:

  • There is no overall disadvantage ‘gap’ for students progressing to university from London sixth form colleges – quite the opposite.
  • On average, disadvantaged students progress to university at a higher rate from London sixth form colleges than from London school sixth forms.
  • The average London school sixth form has 9 FSM students progressing to university, the average London sixth form college has 100.
  • There is a disadvantage ‘gap’ for progression to the ‘top’ third most selective universities and it is much more marked in London school sixth forms than in London sixth form colleges.

The data for actual progression rates are provided below although the key factor is the ‘gap’ between FSM and non-FSM assuming that all other factors are equal. The progression rates themselves are not strictly comparable as the school sixth form and sixth form college cohorts will have different profiles. Nevertheless, it is notable that the crude FSM student progression rates are all higher for sixth form colleges.

London School sixth forms Sixth form colleges
FSM progression to HE 60% 63%
Non-FSM progression to HE 63% 60%
Disadvantage gap -3% +3%
FSM progression (top 3rd) 12% 14%
Non-FSM progression (top 3rd) 31% 20%
Disadvantage gap (top 3rd) -19% -6%

The data is drawn from the Department for Education’s Key Stage 5 destinations data here

No hypotheses are offered for these differences at the moment. It’s also the case that this analysis only includes those young people who ‘made it’ onto advanced programmes where FSM students may well be under-represented.

However, one thing is clear: London’s  12 sixth form colleges are making a very strong contribution to social mobility in the capital.

See also:

London’s engines of mobility (October 2015)

From free school meals to university (April 2015)

About Eddie Playfair

I am a Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC) having previously been a college principal for 16 years and a teacher before that. I live in East London and I blog in a personal capacity about education and culture. I also tweet at @eddieplayfair
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2 Responses to Reducing London’s disadvantage gap.

  1. Eddie, where do you get this data from?



    • Hi John, I’ve added the source; it’s the DfE’s most recent destinations data. I’ve sorted institutions by type of institution and aggregated their FSM and non-FSM progressors. There is some rounding in these tables and very small numbers are also omitted – but I think the analysis is worthwhile at the macro level. I’m sure there’s lots more useful analysis that could be done!


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