Attainment gap is ‘ticking time bomb’ for social mobility

A charity has called on the government to continue the National Tutoring Programme (NTP), which is due to end this summer, warning that inequalities in education are a ‘ticking time bomb’ for social mobility and social cohesion. The Sutton Trust makes the call as part of ten point plan of recommendations for the next government to tackle the ‘attainment gap’ - the difference in education outcomes between low income students and their better off peers. From the early 2010s the attainment gap had been narrowing across all school stages, but this narrowing stalled from 2017. The gap has then widened notably since 2020 following the coronavirus pandemic.

The Sutton Trust argues the attainment gap is caused primarly by underlying poverty but exacerbated by changes to school funding, socially exclusive admissions to top schools, and unequal access to high quality teachers. They point to figures showing that in 2013 spending per pupil in both state primary and secondary schools in the most deprived areas was more than 30 per cent greater than in the least deprived areas, reflecting the greater challenges faced by those schools. By 2021 this difference had dropped to around 20 per cent, due largely to reforms to the National Funding Formula (NFF) in 2018.

The Trust’s ten point plan therefore calls for the NFF to be reformed to ‘rebalance’ funding back towards schools serving the most disadvantaged communities. They want to see Pupil Premium (PP) funding restored to at least 2014/15 levels in real terms, and also extended to post-16 institutions. On admissions, the trust would like to see PP applicants prioritised in school’s oversubscription criteria. Furthermore, they argue for free school meals (FSC) to be extended to the children of all families in receipt of Universal Credit, and breakfast club provision expanded.

With regards to tutoring, the Sutton Trust point to recent polling via the Ipsos Young People Omnibus, which found that 39 per cent of secondary pupils from better off homes had received private tuition at some point in their schooling, compared to 22 per cent of pupils from worse off homes. They say that the NTP has expanded access to tutoring for low-income pupils, with the polling showing that more than a quarter (27 per cent) of pupils in receipt of FSC received tutoring via their school last year. They call on the government to renew the NTP, targeting it at disadvantaged pupils and allocating ringfenced funding for the long term.

Sir Peter Lampl, Founder of the Sutton Trust and Founder of the Education Endowment Foundation, said there needed to be ‘renewed focus’ on tackling the attainment gap. He added: ‘The next government needs to do much more for the most disadvantaged youngsters. This means increasing funding for low-income pupils, access to tutoring for the long-term, and to do more to take hunger out of the classroom. Coming from a low-income background shouldn’t be a barrier for children to succeed in education and in life.’

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the ASCL union commented: ‘The widening of the attainment gap is desperately sad but not entirely surprising. It is the logical consequence of the government’s failure to produce an adequate recovery plan in response to a pandemic which disproportionately impacted disadvantaged children and young people. The NTP, while by no means perfect, was one thing that was helping to tackle the attainment gap. It has opened up tutoring to children who otherwise would never have had access. It is unlikely that many schools will be able to afford to provide tuition without any form of financial support being available and it is very disappointing that the government no longer sees it as worthwhile to provide funding.’

Full report: http://tinyurl.com/8f8esbp7

 

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