Schools in wealthier areas have failed to close the “progress gap” between disadvantaged pupils and their wealthier peers over the past 10 years, a new study reveals.
But the research shows that primaries in poorer parts of the country have eliminated the gap entirely.
The study, published by the Education Policy Institute (EPI), measured the rate at which disadvantaged children fall behind their peers from one key stage to another.
And the findings suggest that where disadvantaged children – those eligible for pupil-premium funding – are in a minority, they fall further behind their peers in terms of their progress.
Primary schools with less than 8 per cent disadvantaged pupils saw their progress gap more than double from 1.1 months’ difference in progress in 2009 – compared with more advantaged peers with the same prior attainment – to 2.6 months' in 2015.
But the study reveals that primaries with more than 45 per cent of disadvantaged pupils had closed the progress gap completely between their wealthier and poorer children over the past decade.
That means that between key stage 1 and key stage 2, disadvantaged children in those schools were making the same level of progress that their more advantaged peers were in the rest of the country.
'Focus on early years'
EPI chair and former Liberal Democrat schools minister David Laws said the results showed a “mixed” picture when it came to the education of disadvantaged children over the past decade.
Schools in poorer areas were “doing well”, Mr Laws said, but those in affluent areas were “failing to close gap”.
“With the new prime minister, in her first speech, making a commitment to improving life chances, this research is timely and indicates the mountain to climb in terms of the gap between disadvantaged pupils and the rest of pupils,” he said.
According to the study, around 40 per cent of the eventual gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers was already present by the age of 5. It suggests more needs to be done in the years before formal schooling.
The EPI is recommending that the government improve the educational quality of childcare for children aged 3 to 4, and increase the uptake of the targeted two-year-old offer, rather than push on with its plans to provide 30 hours of free childcare.
It is also calling on the government to retain its commitment to providing the pupil premium as a discrete grant targeted at the most disadvantaged pupils.
Jo Hutchinson, the author of the report, said the quality of childcare should be prioritised over the 30 hours offer as the latter “makes no contribution to closing the gap and may risk increasing it before children even start school”.
“It is vital that the government protects the pupil premium and clarifies how much additional deprivation funding will be available to schools through the new national funding formula,” she added.