View all newsletters
Sign up to our newsletters

Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
22 August 2019updated 24 Jul 2021 3:35am

Improved GCSE results disguise a fail for Theresa May

By Anoosh Chakelian

Glance at the headlines about GCSE results today and you’ll see a picture of success. “Pass rates and top grades edge upwards,” notes the BBC. “Girls fare better than boys under more rigorous courses,” reports the Guardian (the proportion of boys obtaining top grades went up, too, before you start…). “Hundreds achieve clean sweep of top grades,” says the Times. “Top grades on the rise despite new tougher exams,” announces the Telegraph.

Positive news then, eh? Cherry Lambrini and fake IDs at the ready!

Well, not quite. The problem is that these cheery headlines disguise the long tail of Theresa May’s utter failure as prime minister to achieve her aims.

As I reported at time of her resignation, one of the many “burning injustices” she pledged to solve when reaching No 10 was that: “If you’re a white, working-class boy, you’re less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university.”

Yet when she left office, more than half of England’s universities had fewer than 5 per cent poor white students in their intakes, according to National Education Opportunities Network analysis in 2019, and the number of white university applicants continues to fall. The progression rates for white young people on free school meals into higher education were 17.6 per cent for girls and 12.2 per cent for boys in 2016/17.

Just last month, the Education Policy Institute revealed that the disadvantage attainment gap has stopped narrowing, and that poorer pupils in general are around 18 months behind their more advantaged peers in progress at GCSE level. The most persistently disadvantaged pupils are now almost two years behind by the time they finish their GCSEs, in what the think tank described as “a major setback for social mobility”.

It remains to be seen whether this is a turning point, heralding a further widening of the disadvantage attainment gap in GCSEs. But last month’s findings should not be forgotten beneath positive government statements this results day.

Content from our partners
Future proofing the NHS
Where do we get the money to fix the world's biggest problems? – with ONE
Labour's health reforms can put patients first

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.