The EPI’s Annual Report, released yesterday, highlights that nationally the gap between disadvantaged students and the rest of their peers has widened at the secondary level. For primary schools, the disadvantage gap continues to narrow, but the early year’s gap has begun to open up again.
Chris Zarraga, Director of Operations Schools North East, said, “The report is timely and welcome. No one wants to accept that a child’s future will be determined by their past or where they are born, but sadly this is too often the case. The news that the attainment gap in secondary schools has widened for the first time in eight years, although disappointing, comes as no surprise and signals the urgency with which the new Prime Minister must act to deliver on the vital funding he has pledged for the education sector.”
The North East’s schools and colleges are utterly committed to closing the disadvantage gap and work tirelessly to improve the life chances of young people from deprived backgrounds. However, the disadvantaged gap begins early and continues to grow throughout a child’s education. In the North East the most deprived children fall behind their classmates in the early years by approx. 4.6 months. The secondary disadvantage gap has grown with the least affluent children falling 20 months behind the more affluent members of their class.
Unfortunately, these figures have led to a simplistic narrative that the North East’s primaries are good, but the secondaries ‘need to try harder’. It also leads to claims of a ‘North South gap’ and the inevitable comparison with ‘higher performing’ London schools. This is absolutely not the case.
Deprivation, especially income-related, is a valid measure for comparing pupils differing levels of achievement, but it is far more revealing to measure what is happening with regard to students suffering from high impact disadvantage. We know that within the North East there is a far higher concentration of children experiencing the highest impact, long-term disadvantage. The academic achievement of those students cannot be directly compared to non high impact deprived students within London, or local authorities that have far lower numbers of such students.
The work of academics, such as Durham University’s Professor Stephen Gorard, show that once you account for the impact of long-term deprivation, the region’s secondaries perform as well as any in the country. Neither ‘the south’ nor London performs better, let alone significantly more so, with students from those backgrounds.
Furthermore, Professor Michael Jopling of the University of Wolverhampton points out “secondary pupils are generally more exposed to austerity measures than primary pupils. This needs to be explored further in relation to regions like the North East where austerity measures have hit hard.”
Schools North East calls on the government to urgently review the effects of high impact disadvantage on student attainment and the most effective measures to combat it.
Chris Zarraga concluded, “Schools North East welcomes the new Prime Minister’s commitment to invest £4.6bn in education. However, he must ensure that this funding is targeted appropriately at those areas, such as the North East, that face the greatest challenges from high impact deprivation and that funding is used to support those methods that are proven to be most effective with the most deprived students.”