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19 August 2022

A-level results: Mapping England’s grade gap

Levelling up appears to be doing little to solve inequality in achievement.

By Ben Walker

The number of top (grade A or above) A-level results awarded in England has fallen since 2021, but it is up on 2019 – the last year when A-level grades were based on public exams. Compared to the Covid years, when grades were based on teachers’ assessments, they’re down significantly, but compared to the years before that they’re up.

There is another way to read these statistics. Mapping the numbers across England’s counties creates a picture of regional variation that suggests the government’s levelling up agenda is doing little to solve inequalities in attainment.

In Surrey, in the south-east of England, almost half of grades awarded (44.5 per cent) were A or above. This compares favourably to the overall England figure of 36 per cent.

Head north, and the picture isn't quite so impressive. In West and South Yorkshire, home to the cities of Leeds, Bradford and Sheffield, the numbers were between five and four percentage points below the England share.

What's important to note is that it's not as simple as saying that pupils uniformly did worse in England's northern and urban areas. In Bedfordshire, 27 per cent of grades were A or above, nine percentage points below England overall. Lower attainment in Suffolk, Cumbria, Staffordshire and the Isle of Wight – each more than seven percentage points below the national average – suggests it is rural areas, across the country, that are falling behind.

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[See also: The UK’s inflation rate is higher than any other G7 country]

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