A better explanation for A level performance

I thought it would be a good idea to comment about the level of expenditure per head in Wales on education, particularly as it has been given as a reason for the Wales relative performance in A level results relative to England.

     School 'funding gap' dispute in Wales after A-levels

In the first instance, I think that a pass rate of 97.1% as opposed to the 97.6% is insignificant. All it shows is that the vast majority of those who sit A levels pass them. A levels are primarily used as a basis of selection for further courses, so the grades matter much more than the small percentage that fail.

But as for the grades, I found an article in the Telegraph to be more enlightening than anything I read elsewhere. It gives the percentages that got the new A* grade for each region of England. In tabular form they are:

London ... 9.6%
South East ... 9.6%
Yorkshire/Humberside ... 9.0%
South West ... 8.6%
East ... 8.3%
West Midlands ... 7.4%
East Midlands ... 6.9%
North West ... 6.7%
North East ... 6.3%

The Telegraph, 19 August 2010

Although the correlation isn't exact, it seems obvious that there is a good degree of correlation between these results and the relative prosperity of these areas.

The figure for Wales was 6.5%, and that puts us above the north east of England and just behind the north west of England ... which happens to roughly match where we are on most economic indicators. That therefore leads me to think that our results have less to do with how much per head we spend on education than on general economic prosperity. More affluent parents tend (because they can more easily afford it, not because they care less about their children) to invest more in their children's education. This can be anything from having more books in the house, to having more space in the house so that a child can concentrate on homework in quiet, to being able to afford a computer and decent internet access, to paying for additional tuition.

So how relevant is the £527 per head difference? Without putting too fine a point on it, it would be hard to find anyone working in education who doesn't want extra money spent on education; just as we won't find anyone in the NHS who doesn't want more spent on health ... or in social services who doesn't want more spent on care ... or in the police who doesn't want more spent on law and order. So of course people who work in education want more spent on education, especially at a time when everyone is concerned about job security.

But the real question is whether it would make a difference.

Personally, I doubt whether it would. Things aren't as simple as that. Of course this doesn't mean that I have any objection to spending more on education; but at a time when public spending is being cut back drastically one could say that England has something to learn from us if we can achieve broadly similar results to equivalent regions in England, but do it for £527 per child less.

Following Macsen's comment, I've now added a new post about the Welsh Baccalaureate which, because it counts as an A Level at grade A, makes a substantial difference to the overall picture.

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Plaid Gwersyllt said...

In Wrecsam schools only 17% get A*/A compared to 24% in Wales and 27% in the UK but this does not include Yale College results. When you look at A* only 3% of Wrecsam Schools achieve this grade. Wrecsam Council's economic indicators are probably near the top quartile so how does these results fit into your hypothesis?

Anonymous said...

Good post.

"I think that a pass rate of 97.1 % as opposed to the 97.6% is insignificant." A difference of less than 1% is neither hear nor there.

Do these A level results take into account the Welsh pupils who take the Welsh Bac?


Cai Larsen said...

I agree with much of this - but I'd also ask whether the £527 per head not spent on education is better off being spent on the various odds & ends it goes on now than it would be if it was sent straight to schools?

MH said...

I don't know, Plaid G. There doesn't seem to be a comprehensive source for the information. It's not clear to me where the Telegraph gets its figures from.

Each local authority in Wales has reported figures to the local press, and I would guess that they are calculating them for themselves (as is each school). They are all listed here and will probably make their way onto StatsWales in due course. But if you can direct me to something I've missed, please do.


Macsen, Thanks for asking that question. I've looked at the figures and they do make a big difference to the overall picture, so I've added a new post here.


MB, perhaps what I've now written on the Welsh Bac might make a difference. However the GCSE results will come out next week, and these will almost certainly show that Wales is behind England ... although those figures have a different set of equivalences. The simple fact is that we aren't going to have enough money to be able to spend an extra £527 per head. But, as I said, I don't have a problem with us spending more on education, and Carwyn Jones' 1% seems just about OK to me.

However, if your key phrase is "straight to schools" meaning that local authorities are bypassed, I would have reservations. Of course we should aim to cut out as much indirect spending on education as we can in order to have more available at what used to be called the chalkface, but I want to hold on to the idea that those who run education should be democratically accountable to locally elected politicians. There has been some talk about direct funding from the Welsh Government, and other talk about reducing the number of LEAs. Personally, I wouldn't be happy with either because I value local accountability. The principle of subsidiarity should apply, of which my precise definition is that matters should be decided at the most local level, unless people at that level agree that it should be handled at a more central level. Under that principle neighbouring LEAs could agree to pool resources, but "rationalization" should not be imposed from above. If I read John Dixon right, I think we might be on the same wavelength on this.

Now of course some LEAs are not very good. But a combination of Estyn inspection and guidelines/targets from national government in Cardiff should together be enough to get badly performing LEAs up to standard.

CYMRU AM BYTH! said...

ENGLISH VERSION: http://wales-independence.blogspot.com/
FERSIWN CYMRAEG: http://cymruannibynnol.blogspot.com/


Jennifer said...

A levels are primarily used as a basis of selection for further courses, so the grades matter much more than the small percentage that fail. C_ARSUM_19Q2 exam dumps

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