The attainment gap, the gap in school exam results between pupils from different social backgrounds, is one of the key challenges in our education system. Differences in school achievement act as a block on social mobility and have real consequences for the life chances of those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Children with poor vocabulary age five are more than twice as likely to be unemployed aged 34. Such differences are not just social in origin, they are also geographical.
It was for this reason that the All-Party Parliamentary Group’s inquiry into the regional attainment gap across England was initiated in late 2017. We find ourselves an increasingly divided country; divided by politics, by life prospects, but also divided geographically. The inquiry sought to explore the origins of differences in school outcomes between areas, what efforts have been made to close the gap, along with what we can learn from best practice across the country and how it could be shared and implemented.
This map shows GCSE performance and attainment gaps between free school meal eligible pupils and non-FSM pupils for local authorities in England. Dark red indicates areas with the largest attainment gaps, yellow indicates the smallest gaps.
- Local authorities should harness a sense of place through stronger collaboration across the whole system (including between schools, universities, local services, businesses etc). This should be done by providing additional funding to cold-spot areas so that they can take on the role of local coordinators in driving school improvement and supporting schools to work with one another.
- In order to be rated as Outstanding, schools must highlight that they are collaborating with other schools in the local area and Ofsted must recognise and evaluate this in their inspections.
Teacher recruitment and retention
- The Government should incentivise school collaboration by repurposing the Pupil Premium into a new Social Mobility Premium which schools and senior leaders can use on initiatives to improve social mobility in deprived schools and coldspot areas. For example, this could be used on teacher recruitment and retention in specific subject shortage areas, CPD for teachers, mentoring and peer to peer support.
- The Government should follow through on their ambitious new recruitment and retention strategy and support schools in social mobility coldspot areas to offer a more generous financial incentive, combined with a strong offer of additional professional development to teachers to encourage them to take up positions there.
- The Government should complete the long-promised review of the children’s centre programme and publish a reinvigorated National Strategy on children’s centres in 2019. The Government should also ringfence funding for children’s centres and ensure that they are able to reconnect with their original purpose, focusing on the 0-5 age range.
- The government should move towards giving early years teachers Qualified Teacher Status, with the increase in pay, conditions and status this would entail, and should invest in improving qualifications for all practitioners in the sector. A dedicated funding pot, similar to the old Graduate Leader Fund, is important to achieving this.