Poverty still blights education prospects

Poor children are still three times more likely to be sent to a special school, do badly in their GCSEs and fail to get foreign language qualifications than their more affluent peers, according to new government research.

The statistics, which highlight to what extent background is linked to school achievement, reveal the continuing educational gap between rich and poor.

Around 3.7 per cent of children who live in the most deprived areas did not pass any GCSEs last summer compared to just 0.6 per cent of pupils in the most affluent places. Overall, 10,662 children - 1.8 per cent - left school without any GCSEs.

But only 2.8 per cent of children in secondaries in the most deprived areas did not achieve any passes, compared to 1.2 per cent in schools in the richest areas. This suggests that the average school class includes children from a variety of backgrounds.

In some subjects, the difference in achievement is even more marked. Just 14.6 per cent of children in the most deprived areas passed a GCSE in a modern foreign language compared to 45.4 per cent in the most affluent areas.

Children living in the poorest areas are also three times more likely to attend a special school. In 2008, 14,965 special school pupils were from the UK's most deprived areas compared to 5,075 from the richest places.

The figures were released in answer to parliamentary questions by Regent's Park and Kensington North Labour MP Karen Buck and Tim Loughton, shadow minister for children, schools and families.

The Government calculates poverty using the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index. Figures for 2008 show 3.4 per cent of children - 33,659 - in the most deprived areas have a statement of special educational need compared to 2.1 per cent (13,968) in the least deprived. These percentages have changed little since 2003.

Tom MacInnes, senior researcher at the New Policy Institute, a think tank specialising in poverty, said assessing poverty by parental income was still more accurate than using area or school.

"Most 'poor' people don't live in poor areas, although it's clear some schools do largely serve deprived council estates," he said.

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