Key points

  • All of the statistics below are for maintained schools only; Independent schools are not included as the equivalent data is not available for them.  They all relate to achievement or otherwise at level 4 in the Key Stage 2 tests.
  • Levels of literacy and numeracy of 11-year-olds in England are much higher than a decade ago – including among those in schools with high levels of deprivation.  So, for example, in maintained mainstream schools with high numbers of pupils eligible for free school meals, 30% of pupils in 2010 did not reach level 4 at Key Stage 2 in English compared with 43% a decade earlier.  For Maths, the equivalent figures are 28% in 2010 compared with 44% a decade earlier.
  • Although 11-year-olds in schools with high numbers eligible for free school meals still do worse in English and Maths than pupils in other schools, their results are now actually reasonably similar to the all-schools average a decade ago.
  • 11-year-old pupils eligible for free school meals are around twice as likely not to achieve basic standards in literacy and numeracy as other 11-year-old pupils.
  • There are marked differences by gender between English and Maths.  In English, for a given free school meal status (that is, eligible for free school meals or not), boys do worse than girls by around 10 percentage points.  By contrast, in Maths, for a given free school meal status there is little difference between boys and girls.  In other words, there is gender gap in English, but not in Maths.
  • Differences in achievement between 11-year old pupils by eligibility for free school meals are greatest (by far) amongst White British pupils.  Among those not eligible for free school meals, the proportion of White British pupils who do not reach level 4 is less than that among pupils from ethnic minorities (except Indians) but, by contrast, among those eligible for free school meals, the proportion of White British pupils who do not reach level 4 is greater than that among from pupils from any of the other major ethnic minority groups.
  • The proportion of 11-year-olds failing to reach level 4 at Key Stage 2 is similar in all of the English regions.
  • See the equivalent analyses for ScotlandWales and Northern Ireland.

Graph 3: By free school meal eligibility and ethnicity

Why this indicator was originally chosen

It is widely agreed that attainment of qualifications and skills during the teenage years is strongly influenced by attainment or otherwise of basic numeracy and literacy skills at an earlier age.

Definitions and data sources

All the graphs analyse achievement or otherwise at level 4 in the Key Stage 2 tests.  Note that around a quarter of all schools boycotted the key stage 2 tests in 2010 and the results from these schools are therefore not included in any of the graphs.

The first graph compares the proportion of children failing to reach level 4 at key stage 2 (11 years old) in schools which have at least 35% of pupils eligible for free school meals with that for all maintained mainstream schools.  The graph shows maths and English separately and shows changes over time.  The 35% threshold is a level commonly used by the government itself when looking at examination results for schools with a high level of children with free school meals.

The data source for the first graph is Department for Education (DfE) performance tables (the data is not publicly available).  The data relates to England and covers all maintained mainstream schools (i.e. excludes independent and special schools).

The second and third graphs show, for the latest year, how the proportion of children failing to achieve level 4 at key stage 2 varies by pupil characteristics.  In the second graph, the data is shown for both English and maths by gender and whether or not the pupil is eligible for free school meals.  In the third graph, the data is the average for English and maths and is shown separately by ethnicity and whether or not the pupil is eligible for free school meals.

The data source for the second and third graphs is the English National Pupil Database.  The data relates to England and covers all maintained schools (i.e. includes special schools but excludes independent schools).  Since entitlement to free school meals is essentially restricted to families in receipt of out-of-work benefits, this should be thought of as a proxy for worklessness rather than low income.

The fourth graph shows, for the latest year, how the proportions of children failing to reach level 4 at key stage 2 above varies by region, with the data again shown separately for Maths and English.

The data source for the fourth graph is the DfE statistical releases entitled National curriculum assessments at Key Stage 2 in England.  The data relates to England and covers all maintained schools (i.e. includes special schools but excludes independent schools).

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

External links

Relevant 2007 Public Service Agreements

Overall aim:  Raise the educational achievement of all children and young people

Lead department

Department for Children, Schools and Families.

Official national targets

Increase the proportion of young children achieving a total points score of at least 78 across all 13 Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) scales – with at least 6 in each of the communications, language and literacy and language (CLL) and personal, social and emotional development (PSED) scales – by an additional 4 percentage points from 2008 results, by 2011.

Increase the proportion achieving level 4 in both English and maths at Key Stage 2 to 78% by 2011.

Increase the proportion achieving level 5 in both English and maths at Key Stage 3 to 74% by 2011.

Increase the proportion achieving 5A*-C GCSEs (and equivalent), including GCSEs in both English and maths, at Key Stage 4 to 53% by 2011.

Increase the proportion of young people achieving Level 2 at age 19 to 82% by 2011.

Increase the proportion of young people achieving Level 3 at age 19 to 54% by 2011.

Overall aim:  Narrow the gap in educational achievement between children from low income and disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers

Lead department

Department for Children, Schools and Families.

Official national targets

Improve the average (mean) score of the lowest 20% of the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) results, so that the gap between that average score and the median score is reduced by an additional 3 percentage points from 2008 results, by 2011.

Increase the proportion of pupils progressing by 2 levels in English and maths at each of Key Stages 2, 3 and 4 by 2011:

  • KS2: English 9 percentage points, maths 11 percentage points.
  • KS3: English 16 percentage points, maths 12 percentage points.
  • KS4: English 15 percentage points, maths 13 percentage points.

Increase the proportion of children in care at Key Stage 2 achieving level 4 in English to 60% by 2011, and level 4 in mathematics to 55% by 2011.

Increase the proportion of children in care achieving 5A*-C GCSEs (and equivalent) at Key Stage 4 to 20% by 2011.

Other indicators of progress

Achievement gap between pupils eligible for Free School Meals and their peers at Key Stages 2 and 4.

Proportion of young people from low-income backgrounds progressing to higher education.

Previous 2004 targets

Improve children’s communication, social and emotional development so that, by 2008, 50% of children reach a good level of development at the end of the Foundation Stage and reduce inequalities between the level of development achieved by children in the 20% most disadvantaged areas and the rest of England.

Raise standards in English and maths so that:

  • by 2006, 85% of 11 year olds achieve level 4 or above and (not with this level of performance sustained to 2008; and
  • by 2008, the number of schools in which fewer than 65% of pupils achieve level 4 or above reduced by 40%.Raise standards in English, maths, ICT and science in secondary education so that:
  • by 2007 85% of 14 year olds achieve level 5 or above in English, maths and ICT ( 80% in science) nationally with this level of performance sustained to 2008; and
  • by 2008, in all schools at least 50% of pupils achieve level 5 or above in each of English, maths and science.

By 2008, 60% of those aged 16 to achieve the equivalent of 5 GCSEs at grades A* to C; and in all schools at least 20% of pupils to achieve this standard by 2004, rising to 25% by 2006 and 30% by 2008.

Increase the proportion of 19 year olds who achieve at least Level 2 by 3 percentage points between 2004 to 2006, and a further 2 percentage points between 2006 and 2008, and increase the proportion of young people who achieve level 3.

The numbers

Graph 1

% of pupils not achieving level 4+ at KS2
Year Schools with 35% or more pupils on free school meals All maintained schools
English Maths English Maths
1996 62% 64% 43% 46%
1997 55% 55% 37% 38%
1998 52% 59% 35% 42%
1999 46% 46% 30% 31%
2000 43% 44% 25% 28%
2001 40% 42% 25% 29%
2002 40% 40% 26% 27%
2003 40% 41% 25% 27%
2004 35% 38% 22% 26%
200533% 37% 21% 25%
200633% 35% 20% 24%
2007 31% 32% 19% 22%
200830% 30% 18% 21%
200933% 31% 20% 21%
201030% 28% 19% 20%

Graph 2

Group Eligible for free school meals Not eligible for free school meals
English Maths English Maths
Boys 43% 35% 21% 18%
Girls 30% 36% 12% 18%

Graph 3

Ethnic group Eligible for free school mealsNot eligible for free school meals
English Maths English Maths
Bangladeshi 26% 26% 20% 21%
Black African 31% 31% 18% 21%
Black Caribbean 32% 36% 20% 25%
Indian 23% 25% 13% 13%
Pakistani 33% 34% 24% 25%
White British 39% 37% 16% 17%
White other 41% 39% 28% 24%

Graph 4

Region English Maths
East 21% 21%
East Midlands 20% 20%
London 18% 18%
North East 19% 19%
North West 18% 17%
South East 19% 21%
South West 19% 20%
West Midlands 20% 21%
Yorkshire and The Humber 21% 21%