WALES

Educational attainment at age 16

Graphs on this page:

Supporting information:

Key points

  • 15% of 16-year-olds in 1999/00 did not obtain 5 or more GCSEs at any grade or vocational equivalent (‘Level 1’).  By 2009/10, this proportion had fallen to 10%.
  • 51% of 16-year-olds in 1999/00 did not obtain the higher threshold of 5 or more GCSEs at grade C or above or vocational equivalent (‘Level 2’).  By 2009/10, this proportion had fallen to 36%.
  • The rate of reduction is – at around a third – similar for both thresholds.  Note, however, that at least part of these reductions since 2005/06 has been due to a widening of what is included as a ‘vocational equivalent’.
  • Because of precise issues of definition (what is included in ‘equivalents’, what pupils are included, what schools are included, etc), it is not at all clear that the results in Wales are completely comparable to those in England (which is why there is no graph with such a comparison).  Comparison with the equivalent indicator for England does, however, suggest that:
    • For both thresholds, the rate of reduction in Wales has actually been somewhat slower than its English equivalent.
    • The proportion in Wales not obtaining the higher threshold was similar to its equivalent in England a decade ago but is now noticeably higher.
    • The proportion in Wales not obtaining the lower threshold has been higher than its equivalent in England throughout the last decade and, indeed, is higher than that in any of the English regions.
  • The proportion of pupils failing to obtain at least 5 GCSEs at any grade or vocational equivalent (‘Level 1’) has been falling at a similar rate in all groups of schools, whatever their number of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.  In absolute terms, however, the fall has been greatest for those schools with high numbers of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.  So, for example, among the tenth of schools with the highest proportion entitled to free school meals, the proportion of pupils failing to get 5 GCSEs fell from 28% in 1999/00 to 19% in 2008/09, a fall of 9 percentage points.  What all this means is that, whilst there is still substantial gap between performance in schools with many pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and performance in other schools, this gap is less than it was a decade ago.
  • Twice as many pupils in Blaenau Gwent do not obtain 5 or more GCSEs or vocational equivalent as in some other authorities.

Definitions and data sources

The first graph shows the proportion of students (defined as pupils aged 15 at 31 August in the calendar year prior to sitting the exams) not obtaining five or more GCSEs (or vocational equivalent) at grade C or above (termed the ‘Level 2’ threshold by the Welsh Assembly Government).  The data is split between those who obtained less than five GCSEs (termed the ‘Level 1’ threshold by the Welsh Assembly Government) and those who obtained 5 or more GCSEs but less than 5 at grade C or above.

The data source for the first graph is the Welsh Assembly Government’s publication entitled Examination results in Wales and its predecessors.  The data covers all schools in Wales.  The lower threshold – Level 1 – is understood to be effectively the same as ‘fewer than 5 GCSEs of any grade (or equivalent)’.  The higher threshold – Level 2 – is understood to be effectively the same as ‘5 or more GCSEs (or equivalent) but less than 5 at grade C or above’.  Up to 2005/06, the only ‘vocational equivalents’ included were GNVQs and NVQs but, from 2006/07, all qualifications approved for pre-16 and 16-18 use in Wales are included.  This widening of definition has meant the inclusion of a larger range of qualifications and thus a lowering in the proportions not achieving the particular thresholds.  Note that the proportion with no qualifications is not shown as this data is no longer published.

The second graph compares the proportion of students failing to obtain the Level 1 threshold for groups of schools with differing proportions of pupils receiving free school meals.  For each year’s data, both the results and the proportion receiving free school meals relate to that year.  The grouping of the schools has been chosen to best illustrate the differing trends.

The data source for the second graph is school-level data from the National Assembly for Wales (the data is not publicly available).  It covers all local authority maintained secondary schools.  Where either GCSE results or free school meal data for particular schools for particular years is not known, these schools have been excluded from the analysis for that year.

The third graph shows the proportion of students who fail to obtain the Level 1 threshold – five or more GCSEs or equivalent – by local education authority.  To improve its statistical reliability, the data is the average for the latest three years.

As with the first graph, the data source for the third graph is the Welsh Assembly Government’s publication entitled Examination results in Wales and its predecessors.

Note that none of the graphs provide a comparison between Wales and the English regions.  This is because, with Wales now publishing only their results against Level 1 and 2 thresholds, it is not at all clear that the data is directly comparable.

Overall adequacy of the indicator: medium.  While the data itself is sound enough, the choice of the particular levels of exam success is a matter of judgement.