Plight of forgotten pupils gets worse

Schools should be engines of social mobility. They should provide the knowledge, and the tools, to enable talented young people to overcome accidents of birth and an inheritance of disadvantage in order to enjoy greater opportunities. But that just isn't happening in Britain. The gap between the fortunate and the forgotten is growing.

In 2006, the number of pupils in the 10 per cent most deprived areas gaining 5A*-C at GCSE including English and maths was just 29.2 per cent. By contrast, in the 10 per cent least deprived areas 57.6 per cent of pupils secured five good passes - an attainment gap of 28.4 percentage points.

In 2007, however, pupils in the 10 per cent most deprived areas fell back - with just 25.3 per cent gaining five good GCSEs. In the 10 per cent least deprived areas students pulled away - with 68.4 per cent gaining five good passes.

And for the least fortunate the situation is strikingly bad.

More than 10 per cent of pupils are eligible for free school meals. But of the 30, 000 young people who got 3 As at A level in 2006, only 176 of them were eligible for free school meals. That's less than one per cent.

At the same time, nearly half of those children eligible for free school meals didn't get a single GCSE pass at C or above.

We believe that at the heart of the problem in our schools is a failure of accountability.

At the moment accountability in education is all one way - all upwards - all towards the Secretary of State and the targets he sets. We want accountability to be to parents, and we want to give heads and teachers the freedom to respond to the needs of those they teach, not targets set to satisfy politicians' vanity.

Michael Gove Shadow children, schools and families secretary.

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