Progress to education equality 'slow and patchy'

Poorer pupils less than half as likely to pass GCSE English and maths as wealthier peers, says Fair Education Alliance

Roger Baird

Much more needs to be done to narrow the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils, says the Fair Education Alliance

Attempts to narrow the gap between the poorest students in England and their wealthiest peers have been condemned by the Fair Education Alliance as “slow and patchy”.

In its latest annual report, the lobby group said poorer students are less than half as likely to pass GCSE English and maths as their wealthier peers.

The body, made up of over 100 businesses and charities including law firm Allen and Overy, KPMG and Barnardo's, added that the disadvantages suffered by this group at school left “poorer students playing catch up for the rest of their lives”.

It said: “Progress has been too slow and patchy. Large gaps between the most advantaged and least advantaged students still remain across the country, and some gaps have widened.”

Tackling the disadvantage gap

The FEA’s fourth annual survey, which it calls its "report card", also showed:

  • Poorer pupils are, on average, more than eight months behind their peers in reading, writing and maths by age 11;
  • Children from low-income families continue to be four times as likely to be permanently excluded from school;
  • After taking their GCSES, disadvantaged children are six times more likely to be recorded as being not in education, employment or training;
  • Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are nearly 10 times less likely to go to a top university.

However, the body said that these low attainment levels can be turned around by introducing a mix of “world-class teachers and leaders”, by providing education that is also focused on social and emotional competency, and by supporting young people after exams at 16.

The Bridge Academy, in Hackney, East London, is “a shining example” of how high standards can be achieved in tough environments, the body said.

The school, which opened in 2007, currently has more than 1,000 students, with 55 per cent of them receiving free school meals (against the national average of 14 per cent), and 67 per cent of children attracting pupil premium funding (against the national average of 28 per cent).

The academy, which has a partnership with UBS and a number of charities, offers all sixth-formers the chance to have a UBS mentor and interview practice, among a range of additional programmes.

The bank also gives younger students help with maths by providing access to its virtual trading floor, while the school offers pupils additional mental health and wellbeing support through mental health charity Place2Be.

Bridge Academy has won a number of national awards in recent years, and is the 2018 winner of the Debate Mate's National Cup. It is also among the top 7 per cent of schools nationally for progress of disadvantaged students.

FEA chief executive Sam Butters said: “We have seen progress in pockets across the country but it is not enough – systemic change now needs to be rolled out everywhere."

She added: “We need to take proven strategies from these areas and change the system nationwide to ensure the benefits are felt by every child in every school. None of us can do this alone. We need a shared commitment as a country – from parents, young people, teachers, government and businesses.”

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Roger Baird

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