The very poorest children in England have fallen further behind their non-disadvantaged classmates since 2007, says newly released research. The Education Policy Institute study has claimed that disadvantaged pupils in the bottom bracket are over two years behind their classmates when they take their GCSE examinations.
This bracket comprises students entitled to free school meals for 80% of their time at secondary school. Justine Greening, The Education Secretary has described the situation as a “social mobility emergency.”
In a recent speech, Ms Greening focused on areas of England that suffered from what she termed “entrenched disadvantage”: Where low skills and poor employment were linked with underachieving area schools.
The EPI report, Closing the Gap? acknowledged this ‘disadvantage gap’ had become firmly embedded in the education system for generations and that successive governments had tried and failed to tackle it.
The report analysed the official data on GCSE and other test results alongside pupil backgrounds provided by the national pupil database and established two divisions of pupils whose results it compared with the broader results of all other state school pupils.
Alongside the most disadvantaged, researchers looked at underprivileged pupils: Those who have been a beneficiary of free school meals at some point.
The researchers simplified their data by splitting the academic results into months ahead and behind. The findings showed that the attainment gap between persistently poor pupils and their non-disadvantaged peers has widened dramatically from 0.3 months to 24.3 months over the past ten years.
However, the achievement gap between disadvantaged children and their classmates was found to be currently narrowing, though at an extremely slow rate. The report said: “Despite significant investment and targeted intervention programmes, the gap between disadvantaged 16-year-old pupils and their peers has only narrowed by three months of learning between 2007 and 2016.
“In 2016, the gap nationally, at the end of secondary school, was still 19.3 months. In fact, disadvantaged pupils fall behind their more affluent peers by around two months each year over the course of secondary school to GCSE level.”
It added: “At current trends, we estimate that it would take around 50 years for the disadvantage gap to close completely by the time pupils take their GCSEs.” National Union of Teachers assistant general secretary Avis Gilmore said unless investment and the correct interventions are in place, the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers would only continue to lengthen.
“Local authorities and schools are being starved of cash resulting in the closure of, or cutbacks to, many essential support services for those pupils most in need.”
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teachers’ union, said factors common among pupils who are falling behind include child poverty, insecure housing, poor physical and mental health among families and job insecurity. “These have all seen an increase as a result of the government’s austerity programme and reforms to welfare.”
The Department for Education said it is targeting almost £2.5bn this year through the Pupil Premium to help schools raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils.
It also highlighted that it is running a £72m programme to create opportunities for young people in areas where disadvantaged people struggled to progress.