Attainment gap for older pupils highest on record, report finds

Posted: 18th December 2023

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a wider attainment gap between poorer pupils and their more affluent peers, with 16- to 19-year-olds worst affected, a report from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) has found.

The gap for disadvantaged students at the end of 16 to 19 study is the widest its been since the EPI’s studies started in 2017, as disadvantaged pupils were 4.5 grades behind their more affluent peers. This gap also increased across all qualification types in 2022 compared with 2019, according to the report.

Attainment for disadvantaged pupils was found to be highest in London, with the gap growing across all education phases in England. In terms of the government’s flagship opportunity areas, only Oldham managed to narrow its disadvantage gap between 2016 and 2022.

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Natalie Perera, chief executive of the EPI, said: “This report serves as a warning to all political parties that education and tackling inequalities must be a priority as we head towards a general election. As well as evaluating its own “opportunity areas” the government must consider how to address growing regional disparities as well as targeting resources to disadvantaged 16-19-year-olds and newly arrived migrant children.”

The report builds upon the first instalment of the EPI’s annual report published in October, which called for the Department for Education to publish a plan for reducing the post-pandemic disadvantage gap, specifically highlighting the attainment gaps for young children with special educational needs.

The follow up report shows that there has been some progress in closing the 16 to 19 gap among children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) since before the pandemic, as children with SEND are around five grades behind other students in 2022, compared with 5.2 grades in 2019.

There is also a narrowing gap between students with English as an additional language (EAL) and their peers. Pupils with EAL who arrived late to the school system were 11.6 months behind their peers by the end of primary school in 2022, compared with 15.5 months in 2019.

Yet the report also highlights the gender gap for GCSE students across English and maths, with girls almost 10 months ahead in GCSE English.

The second and final instalment of the EPI 2023 annual report also includes policy recommendations, such as a student premium in the 16 to 19 phase similar to the pupil premium for children eligible for free school meals for students aged 16 and under, a ‘late arrival’ premium to address attainment gaps for EAL pupils and an impact evaluation of the opportunity area programme.

Sam Tuckett, associate director for post-16 and skills at the EPI, said: “These findings show that the government must take bolder steps to tackle widening inequalities in post-16 education. These should include a new ‘student premium’, like the pupil premium available in secondary school, to support the most disadvantaged students.”

For more information about careers and advice and guidance listen to the first episode of the new CYP Now Podcast.


Source: Attainment gap for older pupils highest on record, report finds | CYP Now

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