Disadvantaged pupils ‘stuck 18 months behind’

Progress to close the achievement gap for poorer pupils in England’s secondary schools is almost at a “standstill”, say researchers.

The Education Policy Institute says disadvantaged pupils are on average 18 months behind the rest of the class in academic achievement by the age of 16.

At the current rate, the study says it will take 500 years to close the gap.

The Department for Education said £2.4bn per year was dedicated to supporting poorer pupils.

The report looks at the progress of disadvantaged pupils – defined as those eligible for free school meals.

Northern gap

“For the first time in several years, the gap between poorer pupils and their peers at GCSE has stopped closing,” says report author Jo Hutchinson.

The analysis shows particular problems in the north – with the gap in secondary school achievement the equivalent of more than two years in Blackpool and Rotherham.

There are above-average gaps in Knowsley, Hartlepool and Sheffield and the study warns the gap is widening in some parts of the north.

There are also some big attainment gaps in the south – including Portsmouth and Kent.

But in London the gaps between deprived pupils and the rest are significantly below the average – with the gap in secondary schools in Blackpool more than six times wider than in Westminster.

Social mobility ‘setback’

The report also shows the difference in achievement between ethnic groups, and warns that black Caribbean pupils “have experienced particularly poor progress”.

The highest achieving group are Chinese pupils, on average more than two years ahead of white British pupils.

BlackpoolThe gap between disadvantaged pupils and the rest is six times wider in Blackpool than in Westminster

Indian and white Irish pupils are also significantly ahead, but Pakistani and black Caribbean pupils have lower results than white British.

Across England, the gap for poorer pupils in primary school has narrowed slightly, but in secondary, based on GCSE results in English and maths, the gap has widened.

There were some improvements between 2011 and 2015 – but this has slowed, with the analysis saying that on current trends it would be the year 2581 before disadvantaged teenagers caught up in GCSE results.

David Laws, Education Policy Institute chairman and former education minister during the coalition, says: “We are now witnessing a major setback for social mobility in our country. Recent progress on narrowing the education gap between poor children and the rest has ground to a halt.”

School funding

Julie McCulloch, of the ASCL head teachers’ union, said the “report makes for grim reading and should be sounding alarm bells in Whitehall”.

She blamed the stalling in progress on “severe financial pressures” that meant schools had to “cut back on individual support”.


“Schools and colleges need an immediate multibillion-pound emergency investment,” said Paul Whiteman, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers.

Labour’s shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said: “This is the latest evidence that inequality continues to rise under the Tories, with the most disadvantaged students losing out.”

But School Standards Minister Nick Gibb said that the gap for both primary and secondary schools was narrower than in 2011.

“During that time this government has delivered a range of reforms to ensure every child, regardless of their background, gets a high-quality education.

“We are investing £2.4bn this year alone through the pupil premium to help the most disadvantaged children.”