There are undoubtedly regional differences when it comes to exam results, and much has been written about them.

The Social Market Foundation not only illustrated educational inequalities between regions, but also the fact that they were widening over time.

However an article by TES which cited the work of Dr Becky Allen of the Education Datalab, found that, with socio-economic impacts removed, it could be that the North becomes the best performing region in the country.

Exam results data

Comprehensive statistics from region to region are not easy to find. Back in 2008, they were exposed for the first time when exam boards published facts and figures into key regional improvements, as reported by the BBC at the time:

London made the biggest gain in A’s and A*’s – up 5.4 points from 18% to 23.4%.
London was outpipped only by the wider South East region on 24.3%.
The lowest proportion of A grades was in the North East – students achieved the lowest proportion of A grades – at 19.8% of entries – and was also the lowest improvement across all regions.

At the time, Mike Cresswell, director general of the big AQA exam board said:

There are obvious differences of a social kind between the regions, differences in the organisation of education and type of institution. It’s a melange of very complex causes.

Fast forward to 2015

In a 2015 study, undertaken by JQC, a different picture was highlighted, with the north-east faring better, while the south-east came bottom of the pile.

  • North-east England saw the biggest year-on-year rise in the number of candidates receiving grade C or above
  • East Midlands and south-east England were the only two regions to show a fall in the number of candidates receiving grade C or above
  • London showed the biggest rise in candidates getting A* or A
  • South-east England showed the greatest fall

What’s the impact of deprivation?

In 2014, AQA attempted a comparison between average results, and socio-economic deprivation. This was based upon grade stats, and the proportion of students who received Free School Meals.

Rather than proving that poverty was linked to poor results it did the opposite – highlighting how the current available data tells us little about what lies behind regional differences.

2018 – A fragmented picture

In 2018, post-GCSE grading change, the north-south divide seems to be a trickier concept to judge (based on school league tables data published in January).

London is highlighted as the region with the lowest proportion of underperforming schools, standing at 6.9%, while the North East has the highest – standing at a mighty 20.9%.

Clearly there is still some way to go if we’re to have access to comprehensive data on all regions. However, actually understanding what is behind regional differences, and why, seems further off still – especially in relation to the conflicting north-south divide.