From education to employment

Levelling Up in education “dead and buried”, says Labour after regional GCSE attainment gaps grow


Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Bridget declared the Conservatives’ pledge to “level up” education “dead and buried” after the Schools Minister admitted that rising regional GCSE attainment gaps confirmed that the Conservatives’ agenda had “absolutely” failed.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb made the comments on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme about the growing “disadvantage gap”. Analysis by Labour has uncovered the extent of growing regional divides in education attainment, finding that:

  • Students in London were over 50% more likely to achieve a 7 (A grade) or higher in their GCSEs than students across the North and Midlands
  • Merseyside saw fewest 16 year olds passing their maths GCSE with just 65% achieving a grade 4 compared to over 80% in Surrey or Hertfordshire
  • Merseyside and the Isle of Wight saw lowest proportion of students achieving a pass in English, with fewer than two thirds of students achieving this standard compared to again 80+ % in Hertfordshire and Surrey
  • For 2020/21 (last year for which data is available) a fifth of young people in the North East do not move into sustained education, employment or training after completing their studies, 40% higher than in outer London. The number not moving into a sustained destination has increased since 2017/18.

The gaps further entrench a gulf in attainment that evidence shows was growing before the pandemic. Research from EPI found that the disadvantage gap had stopped closing before the pandemic started, dealing a blow to the government’s pledge to “level up” education.

Labour has said that the failure of the Conservatives’ National Tutoring Programme, panned by its own recovery Tsar, as well as the Conservatives’ failure to deliver covid recovery schemes, lay behind the growing attainment gap.

Labour has pledged to drive high and rising standards in state schools as part of its mission to break down barriers to opportunity through recruitment of thousands more expert teachers, a revised curriculum with greater access to creative subjects and two weeks’ worth of work experience and expert careers advice to get young people ready for work and life.

Bridget Phillipson MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said:

“The Schools Minister has confirmed that Conservative promises to level up education are dead and buried.

“Young people who have worked so hard are being let down by a government that has no interest in shrinking attainment gaps or raising education standards and a Prime Minister who seems to have more interest in supporting American private colleges than schools in this country.

“Labour is the party of high and rising standards in education. We will smash the class ceiling by improving young people’s school outcomes, building life skills and ensuring a broad and enriching education for every child.”

  • Transcript of Nick Gibb comments on BBC Radio 4’sToday programme.

Mishal Hussain: Why has the disadvantage gaps as it’s called, the attainment gap. Why has it been widening? Isn’t that a failure of your levelling up agenda?

Nick Gibb: Absolutely. During the, no, during the COVID pandemic, we did see that, I mean undoubtedly disadvantaged children suffered disproportionately during that COVID pandemic, compared to their more advantaged peers.

Source: Today – 24/08/2023 – BBC Sounds; 2:28:55

·Students in London were over 50% more likely to achieve a 7 (A grade) or higher in their GCSEs than students across the North and Midlands

 % at 7+   
Region20192023Change% changePupils in London more likely to get top grades
North East16.417.61.27%1.61
North West18.618.600%1.53
Yorks and Humber17.818.20.42%1.56
West Mids18.118.40.32%1.54
East Mids18.318.50.21%1.54
South West20.420.80.42%1.37
South East23.524.40.94%1.16
Difference between top/bottom region9.310.81.516% 

Merseyside saw fewest 16 year olds passing their maths GCSE with just 65% achieving a grade 4 compared to over 80% in Surrey or Hertfordshire

MerseysideMathematicsAged 164 and above65.172.3
Isle of WightMathematicsAged 164 and above66.772.3
ShropshireMathematicsAged 164 and above6772.3
West MidlandsMathematicsAged 164 and above67.272.3
StaffordshireMathematicsAged 164 and above67.672.3
East Riding of YorkshireMathematicsAged 164 and above67.772.3
South YorkshireMathematicsAged 164 and above68.272.3
CornwallMathematicsAged 164 and above68.872.3
Tyne and WearMathematicsAged 164 and above68.872.3
DurhamMathematicsAged 164 and above69.472.3
Greater ManchesterMathematicsAged 164 and above69.572.3
LancashireMathematicsAged 164 and above69.672.3
West YorkshireMathematicsAged 164 and above69.672.3
DerbyshireMathematicsAged 164 and above70.272.3
LincolnshireMathematicsAged 164 and above70.272.3
BedfordshireMathematicsAged 164 and above70.372.3
CumbriaMathematicsAged 164 and above70.372.3
County of BristolMathematicsAged 164 and above70.472.3
NottinghamshireMathematicsAged 164 and above70.572.3
NorthumberlandMathematicsAged 164 and above70.772.3
NorfolkMathematicsAged 164 and above71.372.3
NorthamptonshireMathematicsAged 164 and above71.472.3
SuffolkMathematicsAged 164 and above71.572.3
LeicestershireMathematicsAged 164 and above71.872.3
HerefordshireMathematicsAged 164 and above72.172.3
SomersetMathematicsAged 164 and above72.272.3
WorcestershireMathematicsAged 164 and above72.272.3
EssexMathematicsAged 164 and above72.372.3
HampshireMathematicsAged 164 and above72.572.3
KentMathematicsAged 164 and above72.872.3
WiltshireMathematicsAged 164 and above72.872.3
CheshireMathematicsAged 164 and above72.972.3
DevonMathematicsAged 164 and above73.172.3
North YorkshireMathematicsAged 164 and above73.372.3
West SussexMathematicsAged 164 and above73.972.3
East SussexMathematicsAged 164 and above7472.3
CambridgeshireMathematicsAged 164 and above74.572.3
OxfordshireMathematicsAged 164 and above74.872.3
DorsetMathematicsAged 164 and above75.272.3
GloucestershireMathematicsAged 164 and above75.472.3
WarwickshireMathematicsAged 164 and above75.572.3
BerkshireMathematicsAged 164 and above76.572.3
Greater LondonMathematicsAged 164 and above76.772.3
BuckinghamshireMathematicsAged 164 and above7872.3
RutlandMathematicsAged 164 and above79.772.3
SurreyMathematicsAged 164 and above80.172.3
HertfordshireMathematicsAged 164 and above80.272.3

Merseyside and the Isle of Wight saw lowest proportion of students achieving a pass in English, with fewer than two thirds of students achieving this standard compared to again 80+ % in Hertfordshire and Surrey

Isle of WightEnglish languageAged 164 and above64.371.6
MerseysideEnglish languageAged 164 and above65.871.6
CornwallEnglish languageAged 164 and above66.571.6
StaffordshireEnglish languageAged 164 and above66.871.6
HerefordshireEnglish languageAged 164 and above6771.6
CumbriaEnglish languageAged 164 and above67.571.6
South YorkshireEnglish languageAged 164 and above67.571.6
East Riding of YorkshireEnglish languageAged 164 and above67.671.6
LancashireEnglish languageAged 164 and above67.671.6
Tyne and WearEnglish languageAged 164 and above67.671.6
West MidlandsEnglish languageAged 164 and above67.671.6
NorfolkEnglish languageAged 164 and above67.771.6
NorthamptonshireEnglish languageAged 164 and above68.171.6
NottinghamshireEnglish languageAged 164 and above68.171.6
DurhamEnglish languageAged 164 and above68.371.6
BedfordshireEnglish languageAged 164 and above68.771.6
Greater ManchesterEnglish languageAged 164 and above68.771.6
NorthumberlandEnglish languageAged 164 and above68.771.6
DerbyshireEnglish languageAged 164 and above68.971.6
LincolnshireEnglish languageAged 164 and above6971.6
West YorkshireEnglish languageAged 164 and above6971.6
HampshireEnglish languageAged 164 and above69.571.6
ShropshireEnglish languageAged 164 and above69.871.6
SuffolkEnglish languageAged 164 and above7071.6
DevonEnglish languageAged 164 and above70.271.6
LeicestershireEnglish languageAged 164 and above70.571.6
County of BristolEnglish languageAged 164 and above70.871.6
KentEnglish languageAged 164 and above70.871.6
SomersetEnglish languageAged 164 and above70.971.6
EssexEnglish languageAged 164 and above71.271.6
WiltshireEnglish languageAged 164 and above71.371.6
WorcestershireEnglish languageAged 164 and above71.371.6
West SussexEnglish languageAged 164 and above72.271.6
CheshireEnglish languageAged 164 and above72.471.6
DorsetEnglish languageAged 164 and above73.171.6
East SussexEnglish languageAged 164 and above73.171.6
North YorkshireEnglish languageAged 164 and above73.171.6
CambridgeshireEnglish languageAged 164 and above73.771.6
WarwickshireEnglish languageAged 164 and above74.671.6
GloucestershireEnglish languageAged 164 and above74.971.6
OxfordshireEnglish languageAged 164 and above75.471.6
BerkshireEnglish languageAged 164 and above76.771.6
RutlandEnglish languageAged 164 and above76.771.6
Greater LondonEnglish languageAged 164 and above77.571.6
BuckinghamshireEnglish languageAged 164 and above77.971.6
SurreyEnglish languageAged 164 and above80.371.6
HertfordshireEnglish languageAged 164 and above80.771.6
EnglandLevel 281.69
Level 360.68
North EastLevel 278.44
Level 353.9
North WestLevel 280.28
Level 358.06
Yorkshire and The HumberLevel 278.23
Level 355.62
East MidlandsLevel 279.93
Level 357.01
West MidlandsLevel 280.42
Level 358.27
East of EnglandLevel 282.82
Level 362.11
LondonLevel 286.32
Level 370.87
South EastLevel 282.55
Level 361.76
South WestLevel 282.12
Level 359.9

Source: Guide to GCSE results for England, summer 2023 – GOV.UK (

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