Signs of improvement for GPS, but support required in the year ahead

Dr Kristina Milanovic, Research Data Scientist RS Assessment

Dr Timo Hannay, SchoolDash

This is the first in a series of blog posts which provide the latest updates in children’s attainment from the summer 2022 term. This blog post will review children’s attainment in Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling (GPS). Analysis was conducted on data uploaded to MARK from over 100,000 pupils sitting RS Assessment’s standardised termly GPS tests (GAPS) between May and August 2022 at approximately 1,500 state Primary schools across England [1]. For the period of summer 2019 and 2021, the same data was used as in our earlier white papers, the full details on coverage and representativeness can therefore be found in the summer 2021 white paper on:


Performance to Date

GPS remains an area in which children in all primary school years are behind pre-pandemic levels. To help understand how differences in mean Standardised Score correspond to time spent learning, we translated effect sizes to months’ progress using a method developed by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) [2]. On average, children sitting GPS (GAPS) tests in summer 2022 are 2.5 months behind the pre-pandemic cohort from summer 2019. The full breakdown of month’s progress by school year can be seen in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Effect sizes and months’ progress for GPS (GAPS) for summer 2019–2022


To provide increased comparability between different groups and across time periods effect sizes are used to compare attainment levels. The larger the negative change in effect size, the larger the attainment gap and effect on learning is likely to be.

The change in effect size for each school year can be seen in Figure 2. The orange bars show the effect size for the summer 2019–2021 terms, while the blue bars show the effect size for summer 2019–2022. In all years, the blue bars are smaller than the orange ones indicating that children have shown improvement over the course of the last school year and that the difference in attainment from pre-pandemic to now has reduced. Although Year 6 has shown the largest decrease in attainment compared to pre-pandemic levels, children in this year have also shown the largest improvement over the course of the last year. The second most affected year group was Year 1. Like those in Year 6, children in Year 1 also showed large drops in attainment compared to before the pandemic, but they too have improved greatly in the last school year.

 Figure 2: Effect size for GPS (GAPS) for summer 2019–2022


Impact of Disadvantage

Even within each year group, not all children are affected equally. A particular concern has been the possibility that poorer children might fall even further behind their more affluent peers.

Similarly to overall attainment, the disadvantage gap between children eligible for Pupil Premium [3] and their peers remains substantial. However, it fell in summer 2022 (blue bars) compared to summer 2021 (orange bars). The disadvantage gap from summer 2019 is shown in grey.

In all year groups except Year 3, the gap was larger in summer 2022 than before the pandemic. However, it reduced in almost all school years between summer 2021 and summer 2022, the largest difference being for Year 1. (Note that Year 6 is omitted from Figure 3 because the sample size from summer 2022 was too small.) Again, this appears to be encouraging: the difference between children eligible for Pupil Premium and other children is reducing, although further support will likely be needed in the coming years to maintain this trend.

Figure 3: Difference in mean Standardised Scores between Pupil Premium and non-Pupil Premium pupils for GPS (GAPS) for summer 2019–2022


Regional Analysis

Figure 4 shows overall attainment changes (for all primary school years) by region. Regions in the North (blue bars) are the furthest behind compared to pre-pandemic levels, followed by the Midlands (orange bars), with the South (grey bars) falling the least.

Figure 4: Effect size for combined attainment across all primary school years in GPS (GAPS) for regions across England for summer 2019–2022

Breaking this down by school year and regional group, Figure 5 shows that in the North children in all years are behind pre-pandemic levels, particularly Year 5. By contrast, in the South and Midlands, it is children in Key Stage 1 who are furthest behind. The North (blue bars) includes the North East, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber, Midlands (orange bars) combines the East and West Midlands and South (grey bars) consists of the East of England, London and the South East and West.

Although children in the North are furthest behind at the moment, they are also the ones who showed the largest improvement during the last school year. Children in this region are the only ones showing improvement across all school years. This can be seen in Figure 6. (Note that Year 6 is omitted from Figures 5 and 6 because the sample sizes were too small.)

Figure 5: Effect size by primary school years in GPS (GAPS) for regional groups across England for summer 2019–2022


Figure 6: Effect size by primary school years in GPS (GAPS) for regional groups across England for summer 2021–2022


Topic Analysis

Topic analysis involved looking at the mean score children obtained for each topic in summer 2021 (as a percentage) and comparing this to their mean topic score in summer 2022. The change in mean topic score therefore shows children’s progress for each topic over the course of the summer 2021-22 period.

When looking at the children’s attainment in the four topics that make up GAPS (Grammar, Punctuation, Spelling and Vocabulary), Figure 7 shows that children in Year 6 made the largest improvements during the last school year, in all topics apart from Spelling. Children in Year 2 appeared to struggle with Spelling and Vocabulary and achieved slightly lower scores in summer 2022 than they did the summer before. Spelling is a topic with which many of the other year groups also struggle.

Figure 7: Change in mean topic score by primary school years in GPS (GAPS) for summer 2021–2022

The North was the only region in which children improved in every topic between summer 2021 and summer 2022. This can be seen in Figure 8. Children in the North performed particularly well over the course of the last school year in Vocabulary and Punctuation. (Note that Year 6 is omitted from Figure 8 because the sample sizes were too small.)

Figure 8: Change in mean topic score for children in the North by primary school years in GPS (GAPS) for summer 2021–2022



Although children are still behind in GPS, their improvement over the course of the last year – the first year since the pandemic began with uninterrupted schooling – shows that it is possible to get back to pre-pandemic levels. Despite being the furthest behind relative to pre-pandemic levels, children in the North in all year groups improved more than any other region during the last school year. The disadvantage gap between Pupil Premium children and their peers has also reduced over the last school year, even if not yet to pre-pandemic levels. However, Spelling and Vocabulary are topics that deserve attention in the coming school year, particularly for children in year groups approaching National Tests. Despite this, the overall picture provides some grounds for optimism. Provided that recent trends continue, we would anticipate that the differences in attainment between current cohorts and the pre-pandemic cohorts will continue to reduce in going forwards.

We’re always interested in receiving feedback on our work to make sure it stays relevant. If you would like to hear first about updates on the research, or if you’re a senior leader in a school and you would like to work with us to ensure our analysis and outputs are providing insights that support you, please do get in touch with us at quoting Nuffield stating your interest in the project.


The project has been funded by the Nuffield Foundation, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation. Visit



[1] We have analysed only results from fully completed tests, with non-zero scores sat by a pupil within the correct age range. Tests sat at the wrong time of year have been omitted. An analysis of the coverage of types of schools included in all cohorts was broadly similar in that all regions and major school types were included. Additionally, to maintain representativeness, the minimum group size for analysis was 1000 pupils and results from groups with less than this number of pupils have been omitted.

[2] Effect sizes were calculated by dividing the difference in Standardised Score points between prior and current cohorts by the standard deviation of the prior cohort. These were converted to months progress using the EEF table, see: Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), (September 2021), “Teaching and Learning: Early Years Toolkit Guide”, EEF, London, pp. 6.

[3] Only pupils attending schools with overall Pupil Premium percentages in MARK that were broadly consistent with the proportion reported publicly for that school by the Department for Education were included in this analysis. Pupils with unknown Pupil Premium status were also excluded.


assessment, attainment, gps, nuffield, research

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