William Eichler 30 July 2019

Education disadvantage gap has ‘stopped closing’, think tank reveals

Poorer pupils in the North are struggling to keep up with their peers, an education think tank reveals, as research shows the education disadvantage gap has stopped closing.

The Education Policy Institute’s (EPI) annual report on the state of education in England examines the progress made in closing the gap in educational attainment between disadvantaged pupils and their peers, known as ‘the disadvantage gap’.

Based on the latest Department for Education data, the report shows that the gap in GCSE attainment between disadvantaged pupils and non disadvantaged pupils has ‘stopped closing’.

By the time they leave secondary school, disadvantaged pupils are over 18.1 months behind non-disadvantaged pupils, the think tank found. This is up from last year, by 0.2 months.

In contrast, at primary school the gap continues to close. By the time they leave, disadvantaged pupils are now 9.2 months behind their peers – a narrowing of 0.3 months since 2017.

Large disadvantage gaps remain well-established in several areas in England, but are particularly acute in the North, according to the EPI.

In Rotherham and Blackpool, for example, poorer pupils are trailing their peers by over two years by the time they finish their GCSEs, on average.

The areas with the smallest disadvantage gaps are in London. Poorer pupils are only 3.9 months behind their peers at GCSE in Westminster, and 5.3 months behind in Tower Hamlets.

The EPI also found ‘huge disparities’ between pupil groups, including by ethnicity.

Chinese and Indian pupils perform ‘significantly better’ than their White British peers by the end of secondary school – moving ahead of them by 24.8 and 14.2 months respectively.

Gypsy/Roma pupils are almost three years behind White British pupils (by 34.1 months) by the end of secondary school. Travellers of Irish Heritage are 28.9 months behind, while for Black Caribbean pupils the figure is 9.3 months.

Black Caribbean pupils have experienced poor progress since 2011, having slipped a further 2.2 months behind White British pupils. In contrast, Pakistani pupils have made large gains on their White British peers, having been 3.4 months behind in 2011, but just 0.5 months behind in 2018.

Pupils with special educational needs remain the furthest behind: 40 months by the end of secondary school for those with greater needs.

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