Sunday, 9 February 2014

Why are black pupils doing so well?

Yesterday I was playing around with GCSE data and found an interesting trend. Over the past five years black pupils have almost caught up with white pupils in the main 5 A*-C measure including English and Maths.

My first thought was that this must be a function of the "London effect" as over 60% of black pupils live in the capital. But actually black improvement has been faster in other regions. (Health warning on this chart - some regions have very low numbers of black pupils, especially the North East where just 139 took GCSEs in 2013).

My next thought was that it might be a result of immigration. Unfortunately we don't know how many recent immigrants are included in the figures but we can look at differences between black Caribbean and black African as a proxy, as the latter are more likely to be recent immigrants.

It turns out that the percentage of black African pupils as a proportion of all black pupils has increased over the past 5 years from 54% to 59% and black Caribbean has decreased from 33% to 29%. This explains some of the faster rate of improvement for black pupils overall as black Africans do about 8 percentage points better than black Caribbeans.

But the rate of improvement has actually been faster for black Caribbeans (13.9 percentage points over the past five years compared to 12.8 for black Africans). So there's something else going on as well...

I then noticed that black boys have improved faster than black girls over the past five years (14.4 percentage points to 12.8). This is the opposite of what's happening with white British boys and girls (7.8 to 11.2). It seems like this gender difference is another part of the jigsaw.

Then I dug into the gender/ethnicity data a bit more and found that white British boys not black boys were the outliers.

Despite all the attention on the under-performance of white British boys this surprised me. I had thought the issue was with poor white British boys. But white British boys on Free School Meals make up a small proportion of these figures (and are improving at the same rate as their non-FSM peers - albeit from a much lower base).

So to answer my initial question I've identified two reasons why black pupils are improving faster than white ones. First there are a larger proportion of higher performing black Africans. And secondly black boys are improving faster than white British boys (as are Pakistani/Bangladeshi boys).

Of course this analysis only begins to scratch the surface of what's going on here. And it throws up a whole lot more questions. Perhaps most of all: what's going on with white British boys (poor or rich)?

All the data in the blog is taken from here.
All terminology is that used by the Department for Education


  1. Grade inflation should logically shrink achievement gaps, simply because an easier exam will benefit those doing worst the most, whereas those doing better start bumping into the ceiling. I don't just mean that the exam content has gotten easier over the years (though it probably has), but also that teachers get better at teaching to the test. It seems somewhat implausible that our black and white pupils have suddenly got 10+ percentage points brighter at GCSE in just 4 or 5 years. I doubt much has changed in the relative performance of black and white kids over the last few years; the former simply cannot profit from grade inflation so much because they started from a higher base.

    BTW a lot of the differences you cite (improvement rates of Africans vs Caribbeans, black boys vs black girls) are very small and probably in many cases just random statistical noise. I'd be careful of over-interpretation.

    1. I don't think grade inflation explains it - white boys should benefit from this as much as any other group. Also the FSM gap has been pretty static for the past few years.

      You're right to warn of over - interpretation in the two areas you mention though these aren't the key issues raised in the blog.

      Thanks for the comment.

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  4. Complete utter nonsense this is just more liberal
    propaganda tripe, this person is going to use
    intricate advance sophisticated terminologies just
    to confuse people that still doesn't explicitly explain
    why black people cannot invent an or built things let
    alone why their brains are smaller than white people
    or yellow people

    and of course not to mention how and or why they don't have
    there own artist, mechanical engineer, technicians, technological engineer
    research scientist, NASA, manufacturers, CIA, corporations, NSA when the other two races have. all he's going to do is convey about his or you're typical egalitarian ideals

    an lets not forget why do they not have a advance civilization like most if not
    everyone else on this planet in Sub Saharan Africa