Persistently disadvantaged children falling further behind at secondary school

A new analysis by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) has found that children defined as “persistently disadvantaged” are, on average, more than 2 years behind their peers by the time they finish secondary school. This is up from the level recorded in 2007, indicating that the attainment gap has worsened over the last decade.

“Persistently disadvantaged” children are defined as those who are entitled to free school meals for 80% of their time at secondary school.

There has been some progress made for children entitled to Pupil Premium funding, in the “disadvantaged” category, but the progress is slow and inconsistent, despite investment by the government, and most of the progress has been made at primary level.

“Our research finds that the most persistently disadvantaged pupils in England have fallen even further behind their peers, with their attainment gap at the end of secondary having grown since 2007,” said Jo Hutchinson, EPI director for social mobility and vulnerable learners. “At the current rate of progress, it would take a full 50 years to reach an equitable school system.”

Location has a considerable effect on the size of the gap, so does ethnic background. The EPI calls for the government to increase its funding for these groups.

Avis Gilmore, assistant general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the EPI analysis is a “sombre warning”.

The Department for Education said: “We are determined to ensure that all children, regardless of their background, get the excellent education they deserve.”

“Our data, which looks at the number of children who have been eligible for free school meals in the last six years, shows the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers has narrowed since 2011.

“But there is more to do. That is why, through the Pupil Premium, we are investing almost £2.5bn of additional funding this year to support schools in raising the attainment of disadvantaged pupils.

“On top of this, our £72m opportunity areas programme will not only create opportunities for young people in social mobility ‘coldspots’ across the country, but best practice will be spread wider to more schools to ensure all young people get the opportunities they deserve.”

Helen Robinson