Attainment gap between pupils of Chinese and White British origin

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Following the 2012 PISA results that placed 15-year-olds in England far behind its rivals in Asia [1] in the achievement in English, maths and science, the education policy makers have become interested in introducing aspects of the Shanghai education system to English education. Many news stories, praising the methods and curriculum used in Shanghai have followed while others have wondered about the meaning of such comparisons and the feasibility of using Shanghai education system in England.

We looked into the data on performance of Chinese and White British pupils across KS1, KS2 and KS4 from 2008 to 2013 and it shows we do not need to go across the globe to see the difference in attainment: pupils of Chinese origin outperform White British pupils across schools and academies in England [2].

Our Big Numbers show a series of charts. The first is a chart showing KS1, KS2 and KS4 attainment for cohorts of, more or less the same, Chinese and White British pupils across the years. For example, selecting year 2013 shows the performance of cohort completing KS4 in 2013, with their KS2 results in 2008 and KS1 results in 2004. The second is a table showing the gap in attainment of Chinese and White British pupils within that cohort across key stages. The third graphic is a chart showing year-by-year data for headline measures for KS1, KS2 and KS4, and the fourth is a table showing the attainment gap between White British and Chinese pupils for each headline measure between 2008 and 2013.


Cohort data

The cohort data in the first chart and following table show a clear pattern in all key stages across all cohorts: a higher percentage of Chinese pupils achieves the thresholds and the difference is high especially in maths. Additionally, the gap increases as pupils progress through the key stages. Let’s take a look at the data for a cohort of pupils finishing KS4 in 2013.

The attainment gap between Chinese and White British pupils is the smallest at KS1, 5% for reading and writing and 4% for maths. 85% of White British and 90% of Chinese pupils achieved Level 2 or higher (L2+) in reading and 83% of White British and 88% of Chinese pupils achieved L2+ in writing. In maths, 91% of White British and 95% of Chinese pupils achieved L2+.

At KS2, the gap greatly increased for maths to 12.6% with 79.4% of White British and 92% of Chinese pupils achieving Level 4 or higher (L4+). The gap for English at KS2 decreased compared to KS1 to 3.3% with 82.1% of White British and 85.4% of Chinese pupils achieving L4+.

The gap then widens at the threshold measures at KS4. 82.7% of White British and 93% of Chinese pupils achieve 5+ A*-C GCSEs, leading to a gap of just over 10%. The gap rises to nearly 18% for pupils achieving 5+ A*-C GCSEs including English and maths: 60.5% of White British and 78.1% of Chinese pupils achieve this threshold.

A similar pattern, with the gap starting small at KS1, slightly increasing at KS2 and peaking at KS4, repeats across the 5 other cohorts included in the chart.


Headline measures data

The third graphic shows data for KS1, KS2 and KS4 headline measures between 2008 and 2013. There has been an increase in the percentage of pupils achieving all of the measures across the three key stages examined here between 2008 and 2013. Given that the percentage of pupils of Chinese origin achieving the measures was relatively high already in 2008, their rate of percentage increase was lower than for White British pupils. For example, the percentage of Chinese pupils attaining L4+ in maths increased from 92% to 94% between 2008 and 2013, while the percentage of White British pupils achieving the same measures increased from 79% to 85%.

To get a better idea about the actual size of the attainment gap between White British and Chinese pupils, the fourth graphic presents the gap for each headline measure between 2008 and 2013. The KS1 gap for reading and writing decreased greatly over the six years from 3.9% to 1% in reading and from 5.6% to 2% in writing. The gap for maths has also slightly decreased, overall from 3.9% to 3%, but there was a rise of the gap to 5% in 2010. The KS2 gap in maths decreased from 12.6% in 2013 to 9% in 2008. The gap in English decreased from 3.3% to 2% in 2012, with a peak at 6% in 2010 and 2011, and increased again to 4% in 2013 [3]. The KS4 gap for pupils achieving 5+ A*-C GCSEs halved between 2013 and 2008 from 20.4% to 10.3%, while the gap for those achieving 5+ A*-C GCSEs including English and maths decreased by 3.5%.

Across all key stages examined here, it is clear that it is especially maths where White British pupils fall behind. The good news is that the gap has been closing over the past six years, with both groups attaining higher across all key stages and White British pupils progressing at a higher rate.

Can you see the ethnicity gap in your institution? What do you think about introducing Shanghai teaching methods in schools and academies in England? Explore our Big Numbers and join us on Twitter (@learningplusuk), on our Post-16 Learning Forum, LinkedIn or Facebook groups to discuss this topic!

[1] Top 5 countries in overall PISA rankings: Shangai (China), Singapore, Hong Kong (China), Taiwan, Korea. Source: OECD 2012 Pisa results.

[2] Data source: DfE Statistical First Releases 2003 - 2014.

[3] In 2013, the KS2 English threshold was split into reading and writing and these are not directly comparable to the previous years. The 2013 English measure used here is our own calculation, averaging the reading and writing figures.