London, ethnicity and GCSEs: Response … and a question for you
By: Simon Burgess
One of the things to come out of the response to day before yesterday’s blog was a clear desire to hang on to the ‘London Effect’. This is the belief that the much higher GCSE scores in London than the rest of England are the result of some policy or practice in the capital’s schools.
As I show in the report and as Chris Cook demonstrated here and before, this can be done by focussing on a subset of GCSE exams and taking that as the outcome measure. This is currently the only way that that belief can be supported.
I will come back to this below.
But here is the main point: I think we are in danger of missing the big issue by focussing on a debate over vocational qualifications. In this rush to hang on to the effects of a slightly mysterious policy, we are just marching past a demonstrable achievement of London. Sustaining a large, successful and reasonably integrated multi-ethnic school system containing pupils from every country in the world and speaking over 300 languages is a great thing. The role of ethnic minorities in generating London’s premium shows that London is achieving this. How many of those are there? I don’t know enough about school systems around the world to say, but I’d guess it’s probably unique.
To my mind, this is a fact worth celebrating about the London education system.
Having dwelt on that thought, here are two points on vocational qualifications.
First, the comparison of London and the rest of England, with and without vocational qualifications (VQs), and across ethnic groups is quite complex. Here are some things that are not true and some that are true.
1. It is not the case that White British pupils make better progress than pupils from ethnic minorities if we exclude VQs. The performances on this measure line up very strongly with performances on the regular measure, as shown in Figure 1:
2. It is not the case that pupils from all ethnic minorities do more VQs than White British pupils. Some do, some don’t: see the final column of table 1. Bangladeshi, Black African, Chinese and Indian ethnicity do fewer VQs than White British pupils; Pakistani and Black Caribbean pupils do more.
3. But it is the case that pupils of each ethnicity did more VQs in schools outside London than inside. See the first two columns of Table 1 above. All these differences are statistically significant. You can also see that in Figure 2 below, which also shows that outside London pupils did slightly more entries overall, meaning less study time per subject.
4. And it is the case that if we do exclude VQs, pupils from each ethnic group score higher on this progress measure in schools in London than outside. See table 2 below.
So the key question is: why did schools in London enter their pupils for far fewer VQs? Was this a city-wide policy decision? Or more informal but still common across London?
This is the question to you.
There is more on equivalents etc in a useful blog by Dave Thomson of FFT. He finishes with the same question.
Second, is it legitimate to decide now, after the fact, that some qualifications count less or not at all in a measure of what schools do? Obviously some vocational qualifications were severely Wolf’ed but not all.
Chris Cook and I have swapped analogies on this:
Chris: It’s a 110m hurdles race and we let schools choose their own hurdles, and then only look at their times at the finish. But we know some chose lower hurdles.
Me: athletes running a 400m race to find a winner. After the race, someone says that actually the proper test of run ability is just the first 200m so we will declare the true winner as the person ahead after 200m.
I am sure there is some truth in both (Any one coming up with a shot put-based analogy wins a prize.)
Finally, a thought about why there is this desire to hang on to the London Effect. If the higher GCSE progress had been the result of a policy (about 8 GCSE grades or 9.8% of an SD more technically) then it would be one of the best large scale policies ever. One reason I guess why people want to believe in it is that we lack a portfolio of proven, large scale public policies to raise educational attainment. Reiterating my comment from the paper, there are no innate differences in ability between pupils from different ethnic groups, but higher aspirations and expectations and perhaps a strong social network encouraging success matter a great deal. How to encourage that in groups where it can be absent is currently unknown; that is where the research frontier is.