In Depth

Closing GCSE poverty gap will take ‘over a century’

In parts of the country, poor students are about two years behind the average

It will take at least a century for the poorest children in some parts of the UK to catch up with their GCSE classmates at current rates of progress, a new study has found.

According to the Education Policy Institute (EPI), class disadvantage has become “firmly entrenched” in some regions of the UK and attempts to close the gap have “slowed significantly”.

The report found that across the full range of GCSEs, children who receive the pupil premium - meaning they are from the poorest households - were 18.4 months behind their peers in terms of their average GCSE grade per subject. This has narrowed from a gap of 20 months in 2012.

But the EPI says the pace of improvement has slowed in recent years - and that poorer children are on course to close the gap only in 2117.

In parts of the country “the gap has widened, including the Isle of Wight, Luton, Greenwich and Dorset”, reports The Times. The greatest narrowing took place in Slough, Wokingham, Barking and Dagenham and Southend-on-Sea.

The findings are of “great concern”, Jo Hutchinson, director of social mobility and vulnerable learners at the EPI, told HuffPost. She said poorer students are “particularly reliant on access to support services - and will be disproportionately affected by the growing financial pressures in our schools”.

EPI executive chairman David Laws said the findings were unacceptable. “This detailed analysis shows that over the last few years progress in reducing the gap between disadvantaged pupils and other students appears to be stalling,” he said.

He added: “The only silver lining in this report is that disadvantaged pupils are switching over time to more academic subjects, without there being any negative impact on attainment gaps. This indicates that poorer students are capable of studying what are traditionally regarded as more challenging subjects.”

To tackle the situation, the report calls for “equal access to high quality nurseries and childcare”, says the BBC, as well as a stable, high-quality teaching work force and a new focus on pupil wellbeing.

It also calls for “early and sustained additional support for those who need it”.

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