Disadvantaged pupils and the disadvantage gap index
Pupils are defined as disadvantaged if they are known to have been eligible for free school meals at any point in the past six years (from year 6 to year 11), if they are recorded as having been looked after for at least one day or if they are recorded as having been adopted from care.
In 2020, 26.0% of pupils in state-funded schools at the end of key stage 4 were disadvantaged, 0.5 percentage points lower than 2019 (26.5%) and one percentage point lower than in 2018.
The disadvantage gap index has been created to be a more resilient measure (than the binary category of disadvantage) of changes in disadvantage over time - given the GCSE reforms introduced in 2017 and associated changes to headline measures.
The disadvantage gap index summarises the relative attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and all other pupils. The index ranks all pupils in the country and asks whether disadvantaged pupils typically rank lower than non-disadvantaged pupils. A disadvantage gap of zero would indicate that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds perform as well as pupils from non-disadvantaged backgrounds. We measure whether the disadvantage gap is getting larger or smaller over time. For key stage 4 it is based on the average grades achieved in English and maths GCSEs.
The gap index is more resilient to changes to grading systems and assessment methods. Whilst the absolute differences (in English and maths GCSE grades) may differ between years the gap index measures results in terms of how disadvantaged pupils are ranked in comparison to non-disadvantage pupils therefore it offers greater comparability between years.
There has been little change in the gap index between 2019 and 2020; it was 3.70 in 2019 and it is 3.66 in 2020.
 More details of the methodology and consultation were published in SFR 40/2014
 Further breakdowns of average English and maths grades for disadvantaged and all other pupils can be found in the National characteristics data accompanying this release.
Attainment by disadvantage
In 2020, 26.0% of pupils at the end of key stage 4 are recorded as disadvantaged compared with 26.5% of pupils in 2019.
Attainment was lower for disadvantaged pupils compared to all other pupils across all headline measures in 2020. The patterns are the same (for the differences between disadvantaged pupils and non-disadvantaged pupils when considering Attainment 8 and the EBacc APS). The difference for EBacc entry has narrowed slightly and it has increased slightly for the English and maths at grades 9-5 measure (reflecting the higher graded results received this year).
English as a first language
“First language” is the language to which a child was initially exposed during early development and continues to be exposed to in the home or in the community. Being a pupil whose first language is other than English does not mean that the pupil is necessarily fluent in a language other than English or cannot speak English.
16.9% of pupils at the end of key stage 4 had a first language other than English in 2020, slightly higher than in 2019 (16.7%).
Pupils with English as an additional language received higher grades than pupils with English as their first language across all headline measures except in achieving English and maths at grades 5 or above (where there is almost no difference between the two groups of pupils). In 2020, the difference between pupils with English as an additional language and those who speak English has; increased for the EBacc entry measure (with a small reduction in the entry rate for English speakers), narrowed for the English and maths at grades 5 or above and the Attainment 8 measures, and remained stable for the EBacc APS measure.
 Excluding pupils whose first language is unclassified
Special Educational Needs (SEN)
The SEN variable indicates whether a pupil has learning difficulties or disabilities that make it harder for them to learn than most children of the same age. Pupils with special educational needs include those with SEN support or an education, health and care (EHC) plan. More information on these is given in the methodology document.
14.7% of pupils at the end of key stage 4 had a special educational need in 2020 compared to 14.2% in 2019.
The attainment difference between pupils with SEN compared to pupils with no identified SEN remains the largest difference of all pupil characteristics groups. Pupils with SEN perform markedly worse than pupils with no identified SEN across all headline measures of attainment. In 2020, the difference in EBacc entry remained stable, however the difference between SEN and non-SEN pupils has increased for each attainment measure, with the difference increasing the most for the ‘achieving English and maths at grades 9-5’ statistic.
White pupils made up 74.1% of pupils at the end of key stage 4 in 2020, 10.9% were Asian, 5.9% were Black, 5.2% were Mixed, 0.3% were Chinese.
EBacc entry decreased for White pupils, was static for pupils from the Mixed ethnic group and increased for the other three major ethnic groups. For the attainment statistics all major ethnic groups have seen increases – which is due to the way GCSE grades were awarded in 2020 – and the ordering of the categories remains the same e.g. Pupils from the Chinese and Asian ethnic major groups do better than the remaining groups with pupils from the Black ethnic major group having the lowest attainment on average.
 Remaining pupils were either unclassified or from any other ethnic background
 Please note the much lower cohort size for Chinese pupils in comparison to the other major ethnic groupings when drawing conclusions from this data
As in previous years, girls continue to do better than boys across all headline measures. Source: Key stage 4 attainment data
With the exception of the EBacc entry rate (which has remained the same) the differences in the headline measures between boys and girls in 2020 has widened in favour of girls across each of the attainment measures.
Pupil attainment levels by local authority varies considerably
Pupil attainment varies considerably across the country. The variation in EBacc entry and the headline attainment statistics by local authority is shown in the following table.
The local authorities with the highest pupil attainment averages tend to be concentrated in London and the south with the majority of the local authorities with the lowest pupil attainment averages located in the northern and midland regions (as shown in the map in figure 6). This is similar to patterns seen in recent years.