Educational inequality still ‘deeply entrenched’ despite marginal progress

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Entrenched: Rich students continue to achieve better GCSE results than the poorest, although some progress has been made to close the gap (Image: Adobe Stock)

Despite marginal progress on educational inequality, poorer students are 1.2 GCSE grades behind richer peers and four times more likely to be expelled

Education inequality remains “deeply entrenched” across the country with the poorest children almost 13 months behind their richer peers at GCSE.

The Fair Education Alliance’s (FEA) annual Report Card warns that we have only made marginal progress in closing the achievement gap and that we are not on track to meet educational equality targets by the end of this Parliament.

The FEA measures the GCSE gap using average grades in full GCSE qualifications between schools serving low-income communities and those serving high-income areas. The findings are presented showing how many months of development poorer children are behind their richer peers.

The GCSE achievement gap has narrowed from 13.1 months to 12.8 in the past year and has closed by 1.8 months since 2012.

However, the 12.8-month gap still means that (based on 2016 results) disadvantaged children are 1.2 grades behind at the end of secondary school and had made half a grade less progress per-subject over the course of secondary school than their better-off peers.

The Report Card adds: “Disadvantaged children were almost twice as likely as others to miss out on achieving passes at grade C or better in GCSE English and maths.”

Furthermore, children from low-income families achieved an average D grade in the Attainment 8 subjects, compared with an average C grade for other pupils.

Regionally, the South East of England has the largest GCSE achievement gap, standing at 18.7 months, although this has reduced by 0.7 months in the last year.

The smallest gap is 12.2 months in the West Midlands, a gap that has reduced by 1.9 months in the last year.

The findings reflect the official GCSE results from 2016, which show that the poorest pupils – those eligible for free school meals – recorded an average Attainment 8 score of 39, compared to the average of 51.6 for all other pupils.

Elsewhere, the Report Card finds that poorer pupils are four times more likely to be permanently excluded and three times as likely to be given a fixed term exclusion.

The size of this gap is similar to the previous year although the Report Card highlights that the rates of exclusion have risen, meaning that 300 more poorer children were expelled and 9,000 more given fixed period exclusions. The Report Card warns that this particular measure of inequality is proving to be “worryingly stubborn”.

It adds: “Part of the explanation for this high rate of school exclusions among disadvantaged children is the higher incidence of SEND among children eligible for free school meals.

“Pupils with SEND are between four and seven times as likely to be permanently excluded as those without SEND. They are also four to five times as likely to receive one or more fixed period exclusions. Pupils who are eligible for free school meals are (more than) twice as likely to be identified as having an SEN or disability.”

The Report Card also looks at university entry and finds that state school children from richer families are almost four times as likely to go to a prestigious university than those from low-income families.
And at primary level, the literacy and numeracy gap between rich and poor now stands at 8.2 months, down from 8.4 months last year. It has narrowed by 1.1 months since 2012.

The FEA was launched in June 2014 and is a coalition of 86 organisations from business, education and the third sector. Its aim is to work towards ending the persistent achievement gap between rich and poor.

It publishes an annual Report Card to keep track of the progress the education system makes in closing this achievement gap.

This year, the report identifies five key areas of action for the government. These are:

  • School funding: A commitment from the government that national spending should not decrease in real terms on a per-pupil basis.
  • Destinations and careers: Every primary and secondary school in England should have a designated and trained senior leader responsible for developing and delivering a whole-school approach to destinations.
  • Grammar schools: The government should resist calls to expand selective education in the future.
  • Social and emotional competencies: A framework of measures should be available to all schools in the UK to support their knowledge of the social and emotional competencies of their students.
  • The early years: The government should commit to ensuring that every group setting serving the 30 per cent most deprived areas in England is led by an early years teacher or equivalent by 2020.

Sir Richard Lambert, chair of the FEA said: “Inequality in education is still deeply entrenched in our country and our Report Card is a stark reminder of the scale of the challenge.

“The government must address the funding crisis in schools – freezing school budgets in a time of rising inflation will only make the journey more difficult.

“As the UK seeks to reposition itself in the world, it becomes more crucial than ever that our young people are able to fulfil their potential irrespective of their parental background.”


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