Disadvantaged pupils outside of London 'have odds stacked against them'

A critical factor in social mobility is the number and quality of teachers available, finds Social Mobility Commission

Jonathan Owen

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Children living in London have the best educational prospects in England, with the capital having “broken away” from the rest of the country, according to the Social Mobility Commission.

In the commission's annual State of the Nation report, released today, it warns that disadvantaged pupils outside London have the “odds stacked against them when it comes to accessing quality teachers and attending vibrant schools”.

Poorer pupils in the capital “do better than pupils in any other region at both primary and secondary school, despite the fact that London has the highest levels of childhood deprivation in the country”, it adds.

Social mobility warning

Writing in the foreword, Alan Milburn and Gillian Shepherd, chair and vice chair of the commission, say: “There is a fracture line running deep through our labour and housing markets and our education system. Those on the wrong side of this divide are losing out and falling behind”.

There is “an entrenched and unbroken correlation between social class and educational success”, they say, adding: “Britain’s deep social mobility problem, for this generation of young people in particular, is getting worse, not better."

The report describes London as being "way ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to the education of disadvantaged children”.

Schools in the capital have been helped by greater resourcing, a supply of quality teachers, professional development, a diverse school population, strong school partnerships, better access to cultural opportunities, and visionary leadership, according to the report.

Just more than half (51 per cent) of London children on free school meals achieve A* to C in English and maths GCSE, compared with a third of pupils on free school meals in all other English regions, it says.

Geographical divide

Kensington and Chelsea tops the list of local authorities when it comes to school mobility, with Corby, in the East Midlands, the worst performing.

The low level of secondary school attainment among disadvantaged children outside London is a “major challenge for social mobility,” states the report.

“In many parts of England, it is much more difficult for disadvantaged children to access quality secondary schools than quality primary schools”.

It adds that those in the north of England have “substantially poorer access to quality secondary schools” than other parts of the country.

“In remote countryside and coastal areas, the average Attainment 8 score among disadvantaged children at key stage 2 is only 31.2 per cent, compared with 49.4 per cent in London,” it adds.

Attainment among pupils on free school meals has “languished” in more rural and coastal areas of the country, where schools “are isolated and often do not have the support of nearby ‘outstanding’ schools”. Disadvantaged pupils in former manufacturing urban areas, such as Kettering and Doncaster, have among the poorest outcomes.

The quality of schools is “hugely variable” with disadvantaged children in Knowsley having “no chance” of going to a secondary school rated "good" or "outstanding", while in Hackney all children on free school meals attend “strong schools”.

Children growing up in isolated rural and coastal towns and former industrial areas have less chance of achieving good educational outcomes, says the report.

Shortage of teachers

A critical factor in the performance of top local authorities is the number and quality of teachers available, according to the report. A secondary teacher in the most deprived area is 70 per cent more likely to leave.

The report states: “Schools in highly deprived, coastal, rural areas have a significantly higher proportion of unqualified secondary school teachers than do those in affluent inland rural areas (7 per cent compared with 4.6 per cent)”.

A new fund should be launched by the government to enable schools in rural and coastal areas to partner with other schools to boost attainment, recommends the report.

It also says that Regional School Commissioners should be “given responsibility to work with universities, schools and Teach First to ensure that there is a good supply of teachers in all parts of their regions”.

Worrying picture

The report “presents a worrying and complex regional divide in the chances of getting on in today’s Britain,” according to Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust charity.

He adds: "It is vital that we focus on providing quality education in the early years, so that disadvantaged children gain the developmental skills they need to succeed”.

According to education secretary Justine Greening, the findings “underline the importance of focusing our efforts in more disadvantaged areas where we can make the biggest difference".

She states: “By working to boost attainment and opportunity – both inside and outside the classroom – we want to help all young people in those areas fulfil their potential”.

Ms Greening adds: "Our Opportunity Areas programme is developing evidence-based approaches to tackle entrenched underperformance alongside wider investment to improve early numeracy, literacy, and teacher recruitment in areas that need it most”.

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Jonathan Owen

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