Closing attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils will take 50 years

Conclusion in Education Policy Institute report based on current trends

Martin George

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It would take 50 years for the attainment gap between disadvantaged secondary school pupils and their peers to close if current trends do not improve, new research has found.

Today’s Education Policy Institute report, Closing the gap? Trends in educational attainment and disadvantage, finds the gap has actually widened since 2007 for secondary pupils who had been eligible for free school meals the longest.

On the gap for all disadvantaged pupils, it says: “Over the last 10 years there has been progress in narrowing the disadvantage gap. At secondary school, there has been a reduction of three months of learning, or 14 per cent, in the attainment gap since 2007. However, the pace of change is slow.”

The report adds: “If we carry on at this pace, we will lose at least a further three generations before equality of outcomes is realised through our education system.”

Although the gap for persistently disadvantaged pupils – those eligible for free school meals for at least 80 per cent of their school lives - narrowed in primary schools between 2007 and 2016, it widened in secondary schools, from 23.1 months to 23.4 months.

The findings echo those of an Education Datalab blog, published last week.

The report highlights how the attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils grows, and grows at a faster rate, the older that pupils are.

Between key stage 1 and key stage 2, the gap grows by 1.25 months of learning a year, compared to two months a year between key stage 2 and key stage 4.

These trends were more pronounced for persistently disadvantaged pupils, growing by 1.5 months a year between key stages 1 and 2, and 2.4 months a year between key stages 2 and 4.

The research also highlights regional variations, with the disadvantage gap smaller in London, the South and the East, but “significantly larger” in the Humber, North and South West.

And it says areas such as Richmond-upon-Thames and Windsor and Maidenhead have been “notably successful” at improving outcomes for disadvantaged secondary pupils, but disadvantaged pupils in Darlington, Leeds, Liverpool, Redcar and Cleveland, North Somerset and Blackpool “are doing relatively worse now than they were back in 2012”.

The report also examines the government’s £72 million Opportunity Areas programme, in areas identified as ‘social mobility cold spots’.

It says that while these areas do have growing and larger than average disadvantage gaps, there were areas where the disadvantage has “grown even faster”.

It highlights nine areas that are in the bottom quarter for the size of the disadvantage gap and the change in the gap between 2012 and 2016: Darlington, Blackpool, South Gloucestershire, Swale, Rossendale, Boston, West Lindsey, Vale of the White Horse and Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teaching union, said the report showed the government was not doing enough to close the achievement gap.

“The solutions do not lie entirely with schools; for the best results for young people, we must end child poverty and then go further to create a less unequal society," she said.

"The government, therefore, needs to address root causes of disadvantage as well as providing money for those services beyond schools that support children, young people and families."

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Our data, which looks at the number of children who have been eligible for free school meals in the last six years, shows the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers has narrowed since 2011.”

She acknowledged there was “more to do”, and highlighted the £2.5 billion pupil premium funding this year to support schools is raising the attainment of disadvantaged pupils.

She added that best practice from the Opportunity Areas would be spread wider to more schools.

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Martin George

Martin George

Martin George is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @geomr

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