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A Broken System Change Needed

Attainment gap between poor and better off grows at school

Not only do disadvantaged children do worse than their better off peers but the gap between them increases during their time at school

Only one in three disadvantaged students will achieve at least five A*-C GCSEs, including maths and English. They are 27% less likely to achieve this than better off students.

The gap between rich and poor achieving minimum levels in maths was shown to increase as they progress through school, (2013 report by the Coram Children’s Legal Centre). At age nine the gap was 8%, but had more than doubled, at 19%, by age 13.

The Education Policy Institute 2016 paper ‘Closing the Gap?’ figures confirm this, their report showing that by the end of Key Stage 4 pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds were 19.2 months behind their peers.

The report said that there had been some improvement in the years they had chosen to look at, in that the amount the gap increased had slightly decreased over the ten years, but they concluded that change was slow. “If the rate of change over the past decade were to continue then it would take over 50 years to get to a point at which the gap did not grow during a child’s time in school.”

The ATL teaching union rejected the idea that schools could solve such problems. General Secretary Mary Bousted saying: “The solutions do not lie entirely with schools; for the best results for young people, we must end child poverty and then go further to create a less unequal society,” she said.

The ever-increasing poverty of children of course impacts upon learning and achievement. Children whose fundamental human needs are not met cannot learn. According to UNICEF the families of 1 in 5 children under 15 cannot put food on the table. And the schools that are having to deal with these problems cannot focus on the children’s learning.

“We are expected to be social workers, to be carers, doctors, we are expected to deal with every issue at the same time as doing all the other things that government wants us to do,” said Louise Regan, the head of a primary school in Nottinghamshire.

However, with full awareness of these difficulties and of the Herculean efforts of some teachers and schools to look after the children that attend, the fact that school systemically increases and entrenches disadvantage and the attainment gap must not be ignored.

The discrepancies between the disadvantaged and the better off are not inevitable. Countries such as Japan and Korea, as well as in Finland, have introduced policies such as a focus on (well paid) quality teaching, which have narrowed the gap between the different groups.

Read it in full: Closing the gap? Trends in educational attainment and disadvantage (Education Policy Institute report, August 2017)

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