Poorest children close results gap

PRIMARY schools in England's most deprived areas have closed the gap on their more affluent counterparts with a dramatic improvement in national test results, a TES analysis reveals today.

Poverty-stricken districts in some of the largest cities have registered staggering gains in national test scores for 11-year-olds since 1997, far outstripping national increases.

England's second most deprived council ward, Speke in Liverpool, saw a near doubling of its cumulative score for English, maths and science in the four years to 2001. The only primary in the seventh poorest district, in Middlesbrough, achieved a near four-fold improvement.

Overall, the gap between the scores of pupils in England's poorest 10 wards and the national average has closed by a third in the past five years.

The analysis is based on the achievements of 1,000 primary pupils and Education Secretary Estelle Morris, said: "This shows that the link between social class and attainment can really be broken.

"The numeracy and literacy strategies, together with investment in better teaching, are delivering real results. Raising standards across the board, but also closing the achievement gap, is very special indeed."

Ward-level results give a good indication of whether the Government is succeeding in achieving its stated aim of tackling blackspots of deprivation on some of England's most difficult estates.

The Government's focus on the inner-cities has been backed heavily with cash, with schools in the most deprived inner-cities receiving more than twice the average amount from the Government's standards fund.

However, work remains to be done. Despite a 50 per cent improvement in test results, junior pupils living in the 10 poorest inner-city districts still score an average of almost a grade a subject lower than their peers. At secondary level, the news for ministers was less good. An analysis of the results of eight comprehensives in the same inner-city districts revealed that schools still lag far below national norms and are showing little sign of catching up.

Ms Morris has made tackling the educational effects of poverty one of her priorities and is shortly to make a keynote speech on the effect of social class on achievement. Ministers know that making a difference in secondary schools could be the key to their second-term success.

David Miliband, the new school standards minister, has also advocated radical action to combat the effects of deprivation. In an article for The TES before his promotion, he called for the best pupils from schools in tough areas to be guaranteed a place at a local university, regardless of their A-level results.

Higher education minister Margaret Hodge has also controversially claimed that state school pupils should be allowed into university with lower A-level grades than those from the independent sector.

Writing for The TES today, Harry Brighouse, professor of the philosophy of education at London University's Institute of Education, says that ministers need to go further, reducing primary class sizes to 20 in the poorest areas.

News, 6-7

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