Top-flight teachers should be paid 25 per cent more to work in schools in some of the country’s most disadvantaged areas in order to close the attainment gap between the poorest children and their better-off classmates, a major new report says.
The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission said that 2,000 high-performing teachers should be offered a “Teachers Pay Premium” to teach in “the most challenging schools in hard-to-recruit areas”.
The commission, led by former Labour cabinet minister Alan Milburn, is calling on the next government to put a pilot in place to test the idea, which would initially cost £20 million.
The document highlights recent figures showing that six out of 10 disadvantaged children "don't achieve the basics at GCSE" and average children from better off families overtake high ability children from poor families by the time they sit their exams at 16.
Speaking at the launch of the commission’s second annual “State of the Nation” report, Mr Milburn said the plan could be funded through money already allocated by the government to widen university participation.
“More needs to be done to get the best teachers to teach in the most challenging schools," Mr Milburn said. “The commission surveyed more than 1,000 teachers and found that better pay would be a powerful incentive to do so.
“For decades, pay systems have rewarded teachers equally, whether they teach in a wealthy leafy suburb or a depressed town. Narrowing the attainment gap cannot happen unless we break from that orthodoxy.”
Mr Milburn's recommendations come at a time when schools are able to pay teachers more than the standard rates in order to recruit better staff, thanks to controversial reforms brought in under former education secretary Michael Gove.
Performance pay policies also came into effect this term, with schools able to reward teachers for good performance or penalise them for failing to reach targets.
Today’s report, which suggests there is "little prospect" of progress on social mobility in the immediate future, also outlined a series of other recommendations for closing the attainment gap between children from disadvantaged and better-off backgrounds.
Mr Milburn said figures showing that two out of three five-year-olds eligible for free school meals were not “school ready” were “lamentable and shocking”.
He called previous parenting intervention programmes “timid” and backed the launch of a national parenting campaign to tackle the problem.
The report also calls for new targets to be set in education, including the eradication of illiteracy and innumeracy among primary school leavers by 2025.
Closing the attainment gap, it says, should be "a priority" for all schools so that, by 2020, more than half of children entitled to free school meals achieve five good GCSEs, rising to two-thirds by 2025.
Reacting to the report, Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, highlighted the fundamental problems that disadvantaged children faced in school.
“This report highlights what we already know: that poverty, while not an excuse, does have an impact on educational attainment," she said.
“Children and young people who arrive at school hungry, who live in poor housing and who cope with the daily struggle of living in households with little money, cannot learn as well as they could and should.”