Primary Attainment in English Primary Schools

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What are the attainment trends across English primary schools?

This new analysis of primary school performance is worth exploring…

SchoolDash has collaborated with RS Assessment from Hodder Education to analyse over 3 million anonymised primary-school assessment tests. These assessments cover grammar, punctuation and spelling (GPS), reading and maths. They are taken every term at thousands of participating schools and provide a detailed picture of attainment trends up to year 6. This study looked at attainment trends by gender, season of birth, poverty and Ofsted rating and covers state primary schools in England. The main findings were:

Gender by subject

The effects of gender differ by subject. In GPS and reading, the average performance of girls is consistently higher than that of boys all the way through primary school. In maths, however, girls and boys initially show very similar performance, but by age 6-7 boys overtake girls and stay ahead until the end of primary school – note, secondary schools appear to unpick all of this hard work. (It is important to realise that these are average effects and the differences between groups are much smaller than the variation within each group. Simply knowing that a pupil is a boy or girl provides almost no information about their likely performance in any given test.)

Gender by topic

Within each subject, there are often gender differences by topic. These are less evident in reading, where, on average, girls consistently outperform boys in all areas (comprehension, inference and LSP, or language, structure and presentation). But in GPS, gender differences tend to decline with age for grammar, spelling and vocabulary while increasing for punctuation. In maths, gender differences at the end of primary school are relatively high for number and measures, smaller for fractions and statistics, and virtually absent for operations and geometry.

Summer-born pupils

In all subjects, the average performance of summer-born pupils is about 8 percentage points lower for summer-born pupils than for others. By the end of primary school, this gap falls to about 2 percentage points but is not eliminated altogether. These effects are also broadly similar for all topics within each subject.


Schools with high levels of deprivation (>35% of pupils eligible for free school meals) show lower levels of performance than other schools, even at year 1 (roughly 2 percentage points difference in GPS, and 4 percentage points in reading and maths). By year 6 this gap grows considerably (around 6 percentage points in reading, and 9 percentage points in GPS and maths).

Ofsted rating

In year 1, schools deemed ‘Outstanding’ showed average attainment about 2-4 percentage points higher than the national average. By year 6, performance increases slightly for GPS and maths (to about 4 percentage points and 6 percentage points, respectively), but hardly change at all for reading.

Gender and age gaps by school

The analysis investigated whether variations in gender and age gaps between schools are caused by the schools themselves or their pupils. The results show that individual pupil cohorts moving through a school tend to maintain similar gender and age gaps, but different cohorts passing through the same school show no correlation with each other.

Differences in performance gaps are caused by year-to-year variations in intake, rather than any consistent differences between schools.

To access invaluable data, try using SchoolDash. To read more background information, you can access RS Assessment’s paper, published prior to this analysis. And to assist anyone reading, attainment is the measure of a pupil’s achievement in school which compares every child to a standardised expectation for their age level, regardless of individual starting points.

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