Doomed to stay deprived

29th April 2005 at 01:00
Study suggests a return to the 11-plus could improve the life chances of poor children. Dorothy Lepkowska reports

Government initiatives to raise the academic attainment of Britain's poorest children have not helped them climb the economic ladder, new studies suggest.

One, a comparative study of standards in eight countries, found that social mobility - a measure of how much a person's social and economic circumstances change over their lifetime - was lower in Britain than anywhere else, apart from the United States.

In part, it blamed the abolition of selection for reducing opportunities for children from poorer backgrounds.

The report, by the London School of Economics, for educational charity the Sutton Trust, examined progress in Britain, the US, Canada, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland. The Scandinavian countries performed best. In Britain, poor children born in 1970 had fewer chances to improve their social status than those born in 1958.

While educational opportunities improved for those born in 1980, inequalities widened because those from affluent families benefited from the expansion of higher education. The proportion of graduates from the poorest fifth of families had risen from 6 per cent to 9 per cent since the early 1980s, but graduation rates for the richest fifth rose from 20 per cent to 47 per cent.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: "These findings are truly shocking.

"The affluent continue to benefit disproportionately from educational opportunities."

A separate study at Durham university into the effectiveness of pre-school programmes such as Sure Start found that such early-years intervention made no more impact on deprived youngsters than on any others.

The study looked at language and maths progress among children in 77 nurseries.

An analysis of the results over four years revealed that although performance did improve, it did so equally for the most deprived and most affluent children.

Meanwhile, a Cardiff university study found that poor children could not get into the highest-achieving schools because of the new centralised system of admissions, which requires parents to state their preferences.

Poor families living in areas in which selection survives are not putting grammar schools as their first choice before they get the 11-plus result for fear of not getting into a good comprehensive.

This is because good comprehensives take in children who put them first, and usually fill up quickly. But wealthier families can risk putting grammar schools as their first choice because they have private education to fall back on if necessary.

* dorothy.lepkowska@tes.co.uk

Peter Wilby 23 Further details on the LSE report from: j.bladen@lse.ac.uk; on the Durham study from: christine.merrell@cem.dur.ac.uk; and on the Cardiff study: telephone 029 2087 4839

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