The pupil premium should be renamed and schools should work more closely together to tackle social mobility ‘cold spots’ according to a report from a cross-party group of MPs and peers. The report, Closing the regional attainment gap, by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Mobility, follows three evidence sessions in parliament and a call for written submissions.

In the report the APPG say that the attainment gap between pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and their better-off peers is substantial, and generally widens through the school years. The attainment of disadvantaged pupils is typically half a grade lower than the average in each subject at key stage 4, however there are significant regional variations, with London performing best and the North East worst. The South East and South West regions also performed poorly for disadvantaged pupils. These variations mean there are social mobility ‘coldspots’ where social mobility is low, and these areas are likely to fall back even further according to the report.

To tackle this the APPG recommend that there should be greater collaboration between schools in each area, and that local authorities in ‘coldspots’ should receive extra funding to facilitate such cooperation. They also call for the government to do more on teacher recruitment and retention, pointing to evidence that suggests teachers of pupils in disadvantaged area are typically less qualified and experienced than those at schools in more advantaged communities. The report argues for greater CPD and financial incentives for teachers to work in ‘coldspot’ areas, and for the ‘repurposing’ of the Pupil Premium into a new ‘Social Mobility Premium’. It suggests this could be used for teacher development and retention, although schools are already free to spend the pupil premium as they wish. However, the APPG note that many schools use the additional money to fund teaching assistants, but that evidence indicates this may not be an effective use of funds.

The report also emphasises the importance of early years education, and is critical of a change in government policy away from ‘good quality early years education’, instead ‘prioritising the provision of childcare to enable parents to work’. There are recommendations for the government to complete the ‘long-promised review’ of the children’s centre programme and publish a new national strategy, and also to move towards giving early years teachers Qualified Teacher Status. The APPG also note that austerity related policies have had an impact on social mobility, in particular with cuts to support services, and say that in deprived areas ‘problems with pupils’ home life frequently spill into the classroom, putting pressure on teachers’.

Launching the report, Labour MP Justin Madders, chair of the APPG on social mobility, said: ‘Social background and geography are still huge influences on educational success and it will require a combination of big picture thinking and local understanding to change that.’

Commenting on the report, Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said ‘This report rightly blames the Government's austerity agenda, including cuts to support services and children's centres, for limiting the educational potential of disadvantaged young people. If the Government is serious about social mobility, it needs to properly fund good quality early years education, rather than focus on providing childcare to enable parents to work.’

Responding to the APPG’s findings, the secretary of state for education, Damian Hinds, said that social mobility is ‘ultimately why I’m in politics’. He also said the government have set a ‘10 year ambition to halve the proportion of children who finish reception year without the communication and reading skills needed to thrive - I want to continue to support families to propel their children’s learning so they can go on to reach their full potential, whatever their background.’

Full report:

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May 25, 2020 (PDF 2.76 MB)

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