Only one in six students who live in poverty and who are behind expected levels of progress at age seven will go on to achieve five A* to C GCSEs including English and maths.
A report from Save the Children has spelt out the impact that being born into economic hardship continues to have on our children and young people.
Furthermore, with this year seeing the “children of the recession” – those born in 2008 – starting school, the charity fears the challenge has become even harder and that bolder action is needed.
It is urging the government and schools to place a stronger focus on the five to seven phase of education in order to close the attainment gap at this stage and give pupils a better chance of going on to achieve well at GCSE.
Its proposals include using the Pupil Premium funding to allocate more money to children at this crucial stage.
Impact on GCSEs
The report – Too Young To Fail – highlights other key implications for secondary schools when children fall behind expected levels during their primary education.
It finds that if a child from a poor family is already behind with their reading at the age of seven, they only have a one in five chance of getting a C at GCSE English.
And if a child from a low-income household is behind in English and maths when they finish primary school, they have less than a one in seven chance of going on to achieve five A*to C GCSEs, including English and maths.
The report states: “Through no fault of their own, children as young as seven are on course for poorer life chances before they have even started. This unfairness is unnecessary and preventable.”
The report highlights the “critical importance” of key skills – particularly literacy, which it says opens the door to all other areas of education.
And while it acknowledges progress in the last five years on the numbers of seven-year-olds who can read and write at the expected level, it adds that even if this progress is maintained, by 2020 480,000 children will still be behind in reading, including 180,000 from low-income families.
The report states: “This analysis has important implications. Starting early in children’s lives is critical – as early as age seven, poor children are more likely to fall behind and have their life chances severely prejudiced.
“This means ensuring that they have high-quality preschool education and care, and that there is a much greater focus on addressing the achievement gap in early primary school.
“The UK continues to have a long-standing problem with poorer children being more likely to fall behind early and then stay behind.”
The report also highlights that children who have struggled with literacy often go on to experience problems with attendance and behaviour.
It quotes previous research from the Every Child a Chance Trust showing that nine per cent of 14-year-olds who had been “very poor readers” at the end of primary school were persistent truants, compared to only two per cent of average or above-average readers.
Meanwhile, in 2004/05, 13 and 14-year-olds who started secondary school with very low literacy skills had an exclusion rate five times that of pupils with average or above-average achievement.
The study also points out that while secondary schools receive funding of around £5,350 a year per pupil, primaries get around £4,000 (based on 2011/12 figures).
But it is not just a challenge for schools, the report stresses. It is clear that the impact of the recession has made it more difficult for families to support their children’s education, especially their literacy.
A poll of 2,000 parents for Save the Children found that a third of poorer families were being forced to cut back on educational activities for their children such as school trips, while many low-income families admitted that all their energies were being spent on working longer hours due to wage cuts or freezes.
The report states: “Parents and families are a critically important part of a child’s learning and development. The stress and anxiety of struggling to make ends meet can undermine parents’ ability to parent and to provide the material support for children’s education. Protecting families’ economic living standards in hard times is crucial to tackling educational disadvantage.”
Save the Children is arguing the case for the Pupil Premium initiative to be used as part of government strategies to tackle this issue. It is calling for a £1,000 “fair chances” premium which would be aimed at disadvantaged five to seven-year-olds – the “age that matters most,” the report says. It argues this would cost just under £120 million a year.
The proposal is similar to the “catch-up” premium which secondary schools receive for children starting secondary school already behind in English and/or maths.
In its recommendations to government, it adds: “In the long-term, front-load spending in primary school – in particular, the early years of primary school. Building on the successful introduction of the Pupil Premium, aiming to boost the Pupil Premium to £3,000 to £4,000 in primary school would be one option.”
The report says that given the rise to £1,300 in per-pupil primary school Pupil Premium funding next year, £4,000 per pupil would be achievable by 2020.
Save the Children has also launched a partnership with volunteer reading charity Beanstalk. The Born to Read programme will target primary-aged children in some of England’s most disadvantaged areas offering one-to-one support from a reading volunteer.
Call for action
Save the Children’s report calls on all political parties to include proposals in their 2015 manifestos to ensure no child falls behind in primary school, to protect family incomes from the “living standards squeeze” and to continue to invest in and improve preschool and parenting support.
Chief executive of Save the Children, Justin Forsyth said: “If we do not act when children are young enough then by 2020 we will have left half a million children behind in reading. Without confident reading all other subjects are a closed book.
“Seven is too young to write off a child. And yet less than a sixth of poorer children who are behind at seven will go on to achieve the benchmark five good GCSEs.”
He added: “The long recession has made it harder for parents across the country to support their children’s learning at home.
“But this isn’t just a matter for the government of the day or even for teachers. It will take all of us. It will take volunteers, communities, businesses and others to enshrine a national mission that no child is left behind at seven.
“Today we ask all political parties to sign up to that aim in their manifestos at the next election. We should not and we cannot afford to leave half a million children behind.” Further informationDownload the full report at www.savethechildren.org.uk/resources/online-library/too-young-fail