This report by John Jerrim highlights the gap in achievement between high achieving boys from disadvantaged backgrounds and their wealthier peers.
- High achieving boys from the most advantaged family backgrounds in England are roughly two and a half years ahead of their counterparts in the least advantaged households by the age of 15. In Scotland, the gap is almost three years.
- This places England 31st in the ranking out of 32 developed nations that take the OECD PISA survey. Although the estimated confidence intervals are quite wide, England performs poorly relative to countries like Finland (ranked 2nd), Germany (3rd) and Canada (5th), where the gap is just one and a quarter years or less.
- Helping disadvantaged boys to obtain higher level skills would help improve university participation, particularly to elite institutions, and improve access to the professions.
- The Office for Fair Access (OFFA 2013, page 51) and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) have recently stated that “to make significant progress in WP requires a targeted focus on individual learners over a number of years. When working with young people, interventions are most effective when they start early, and are then delivered consistently throughout time at school and college”. The author agrees that early and sustained intervention is likely to be vital to raising high potential disadvantaged children’s educational attainment.
- Effective interventions may be needed to achieve this, including a well-targeted “gifted and talented” programme along with initiatives to raise aspirations.
- The major problem underlying socio-economic differences in higher education participation is that, by the end of compulsory education, even the most able children from disadvantaged homes lag a long way behind their more advantaged peers. Raising the attainment of this group should therefore be a priority in efforts to widen participation and reduce socio-economic inequalities in England.
- A targeted scheme for highly able pupils should be introduced, where high potential children from low and middle income backgrounds are identified at the start of compulsory education and receive sustained interventions throughout their time at school. Less advantaged children who have reached school age doing relatively well should thus be in a particularly strong position to benefit from a period of such sustained investment. Schemes of this nature could be piloted in the most deprived parts of the country and undergo a thorough evaluation (e.g. a Randomised Control Trial) before being rolled out on a national scale.
- The coalition government has demonstrated its commitment to disadvantaged pupils by establishing the Education Endowment Foundation. A key part of this Foundation’s future work should be to ensure highly able children from disadvantaged backgrounds succeed in school and have the opportunity to enter top universities and professional jobs. The government should provide additional resources to the foundation to trial interventions that specifically target already high achieving children from disadvantaged homes. These should be evaluated using robust evaluation methodologies (e.g. randomised control trials) so that policymakers develop a better understanding of what schemes really have the potential to work.
- The coalition government has announced that the league tables will use an average point score rather than 5 A*-Cs as the key measurement of a school’s success in the future. Floor targets will reflect results in English and Maths, and progress made between the age of 11 and 16 linked to eight subjects. The Government is also considering tracking pupils in receipt of the pupil premium directly. Within the league tables, there should also be a measure of the progress made by the top ten per cent of pupils in each secondary school, and schools should be held accountable by Ofsted for the progress made.