No Change In Gap Between Rich And Poor Students In Last 10 Years

The achievement gap between rich and poor students in England is the same as it was 10 years ago, despite strenuous efforts to close it.

And more students are falling into long-term poverty, raising doubts over whether they will ever catch up to their more affluent peers.

A decade of policy interventions have failed to shift the dial on the relative outcomes of students in long-term poverty in England, according to a major report.

Students in long-term poverty trailed their more affluent classmates by an average of 1.6 grades in GCSEs, national exams taken at 16, according to research by the Education Policy Institute (EPI), a think tank.

This 2020 figure is around the same as it was in 2011, representing a lost decade in the fight against inequality.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson made ‘levelling up’ a central plank of his 2019 election campaign, but today’s analysis suggests that after 10 years of Conservative government the areas with the largest achievement gaps are concentrated in deprived areas of northern England.

By contrast, almost all of the 30 areas with the smallest grade gaps between rich and poor students are in relatively affluent parts of London.

“Despite government policy interventions, there has been a decade of failure to improve the relative outcomes of students in long-term poverty,” said Emily Hunt, EPI associate director and co-author of the report.


“Not only has this education gap failed to narrow since 2011, but the proportion of poorer students falling into long-term poverty is now on the rise.”

Earlier this month, the Government put forward a series of proposals as part of its levelling up agenda, including increasing spending on schools in more disadvantaged parts of the country.

But one in four students are now eligible for free school meals – a proxy measure for relative poverty – throughout their entire school lives, an increase from 19% in 2017.

And areas with the largest disadvantage gaps are more likely to have a higher proportion of students in long-term poverty, including some where more than half of disadvantaged students are classed as in long-term poverty.

After controlling for long-term poverty, many of these areas see the disadvantage gap reduce, suggesting it is not down to the quality of schools.

Narrowing the gap between rich and poor means addressing the root causes of disadvantage, Ms Hunt argued.

“To reverse this tide of stagnating social mobility, the government must do more to address the fundamental drivers of deep-rooted educational inequalities, including poverty,” she said.

Fears that the temporary, pandemic-inspired move away from examinations and towards teacher assessment to determine grades would penalise disadvantaged students proved unfounded, however, as poorer students saw similar levels of grade inflation in 2020.

But the gap did increase for students aged between 16 and 19, as grade inflation was higher for A-levels than for alternative courses, which were more likely to be taken by poorer students.

“In 2020, disadvantaged 16-19 students were as many as three whole grades behind, and for the very poorest trapped in long-term poverty, this gap grew to as many as four grades,” said David Robinson, EPI director of post-16 and skills and co-author of the report.

“The result is that poorer students could have lost out when competing for university places,” he added.

The Tycoon Herald