A tale of two classrooms: London results skew national picture as educational inequality on the rise

– GCSE results reveal national attainment gap increasing despite Pupil Premium

– Inequality rising in half of local authorities, while Demos analysis reveals 17 of the 20 local authorities with the narrowest attainment gaps are in London

Government policies are failing to reduce educational inequality, with a major study finding the attainment gap between poorer and wealthier pupils increasing in half of local authorities.

An analysis of recently-published GCSE results from 2012/13 by the think tank Demos reveals a 0.3% increase in the national attainment gap, which now stands at 26.7%.

However, when London schools are excluded from the latest data the gap jumps to 29.5% – 2.8% points above the national average.

The figure represents the difference in educational attainment between pupils who receive free school meals and their peers, based on the percentage who attained five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C, including both English and maths.

Eligibility for free school meals acts as a key indicator of low income, with the attainment gap in schools often used to put a figure on educational inequality.

The Pupil Premium, touted by Nick Clegg as a central Liberal Democrat policy, was introduced in April 2011 and awards additional funding to schools for each pupil eligible for free school meals with the aim of improving standards amongst disadvantaged children.

However, Demos analysis reveals:

– Almost half of local authorities (72 out of 152, 47.4%) saw their attainment gap increase last year.

– 66 out of 152 (43.4%) have a larger attainment gap now than before the Pupil Premium was introduced in 2011.

– 65 out of 152 (42.8%) have a larger attainment gap now than four years ago, when the Coalition took office.

– 1 in 12 local authorities (7.9%) have seen successive increases in their attainment gap in the last two years.

– The disproportionate success of London’s local authorities has skewed the national picture in recent years. 17 of the 20 authorities with the narrowest attainment gaps are in London.

– Three-quarters of local authorities outside London have a higher attainment gap than the national average (89 out of 119, or 74.8%).

Before the latest increase, annual figures show that the attainment gap had been decreasing, but only by 1.2% in the two year period before the latest results.

Demos argues the latest rise reveals the scale of the challenge facing education policymakers, and raises questions about how best to use funding to improve standards amongst disadvantaged pupils.

The think tank has recently launched a pilot with four schools across the country giving disengaged pupils the opportunity to set their own goals with the aim of improving their motivation and participation in their own learning.

Ian Wybron, Demos’s education expert who is leading the pilot and conducted the research, said:

“The attainment gap has been a difficult nut to crack in recent years. The Pupil Premium is supposed to finally close it. But it seems we’re now seeing a national increase, and London’s disproportionate success is masking wider gaps across the country. Many local authorities are seeing either no change – or worse – an increase in the gap between the rich and poor.

“The Pupil Premium is a good policy in theory. Targeting funds towards disadvantaged pupils makes sense and, given that the national attainment gap at primary school level is already around 20 per cent, the Government’s decision to increase the amount going to primary schools is welcome.

“It will take time to see how successful the Pupil Premium will be. But we can’t just throw money at the problem and expect these differences in attainment to disappear. Schools and local authorities need proper guidance – backed by robust research – on what works in closing the gap, including how to tackle the underlying causes both in and outside of school.”


Regional attainment gap data

– Local authorities with the greatest educational inequality are: Wokingham (42.5%), Buckinghamshire (39.6%) and Cheshire East (39.4%).

– Local authorities with the narrowest attainment gap are: Kensington and Chelsea (4.2%), Southwark (7.7%) and Lambeth (9.5%).

Download full data, including all local authorities by attainment gap here: bit.ly/1b0glIc

Data obtained from: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/statistics-gcses-key-stage-4

The raw data is from table 5 in ‘GCSE and equivalent attainment by pupil characteristics: 2012-13’ published on 23rd Jan.

Pupil Premium information

– Schools received £488 per eligible pupil in 2011-12 and £623 per eligible pupil in 2012-13. In 2013-14 this rises to £900 per eligible secondary-aged pupil, and £953 for eligible primary-aged pupils.

– The government is now going to front-load PP spending onto Primary Schools. In 2014-15 the premium will rise to £1300 per pupil of primary school age, and £935 per pupil of secondary age.

– Funding is paid directly to Academies and Free Schools. For other state schools it is paid to LAs but they are required to pass the funding on.

More on Demos research

For more on Demos’s education pilot, see: http://demosuk.wpengine.com/projects/pupilpower