As any teacher, governor, parent or guardian knows, there’s never a dull moment in the education sector. From the proliferation of academies over the last decade to the arrival of new exams and grading systems, the education world is in a constant whirl of change. Perhaps one of the most pressing issues facing Britain’s schools is the persistent presence of an attainment gap between more advantaged and less advantaged students.
With one study showing that wealthier students are more than two years ahead of their free school meal peers by the time they sit their GCSEs, it’s clear that there’s a real problem in this regard. What do the figures show beyond the headline statistics – and is the gap getting wider?
No: it’s dwindling slowly, but steadily
Underneath the headline figures, there is actually some limited evidence that the attainment gap is dwindling – at least in some places.
The same study which uncovered the two-plus year catch-up statistic also found some overall good news. The Education Policy Institute (EPI) said in its report that the average gap for disadvantaged pupils at the end of their time at secondary school has closed by three months since 2007, which does represent an advance.
It also found that the picture is different in different parts of the country – and, interestingly, the best-performing areas were not necessarily those with the highest levels of wealth or socio-economic advantage.
Inner-city London areas with distinct problems of inequality and poverty, such as Hackney, managed to reduce their gap to eight months, while over the Thames in Wandsworth and Southwark the gap is seven months.
On the whole, the dividing lines between the areas in which the gap was close and the areas in which it was wide were actually geographic in nature. Areas with the highest gaps, like Cumbria (27 months) and Darlington (25 months), were almost always either rural parts of the country or urban zones far from London.
Yes: a long way left to go
Some progress, then, has been made in certain geographical areas. But the wider context means it’s unfortunately very difficult to make the case that strong progress has been made – despite innovations like the Pupil Premium having taken specific aim at the attainment gap over the last few years.
While the overall attainment gap for disadvantaged students may have gone down a little, it’s not shrinking at a fast enough rate. The EPI study even claimed that it may take fifty years for the gap to be eradicated if change continues at its current pace – which, for most students, is no use at all.
According to the Education Endowment Foundation, there’s going to be no movement at all on one key indicator of academic success. Attainment 8 (which measures average student outcomes in GCSE English, Maths and other key subjects) is predicted to remain exactly where it is, and the gap for Progress 8 (which measures how students perform in Key Stage 2 compared to in Key Stage 4) may even get a little wider.
And with locations across Britain ranging from Darlington to Thurrock all regressing away from gap closure rather than heading towards it, it sadly doesn’t appear like there’ll be widespread progress made in tackling the attainment gap any time soon.
TalentEd are working to help close this gap for those of disadvantaged backgrounds, understanding that every child should have the chance to realise their full potential. If you would like to get your school involved in a TalentEd programme, and help your students develop their personal and academic confidence, click here.
Blog Credit: Nick Toner