The attainment gap – latest figures

The disadvantaged will catch up… but not until 2070 … latest attainment gap figures

The Education Policy Institute report ‘Closing the Gap?’, released this month, reveals that by the end of secondary school, children eligible for Pupil Premium are currently trailing their peers by more than a year and a half (19.3 months). Since 2007, we have only improved the situation by 3 months for 16-year-olds, which means that it will take another 50 years at this rate to see children from less wealthy families progressing at the same speed as their wealthier classmates.

“Without a marked improvement in the rate at which gaps are being closed, it would take us until almost 2070 before disadvantaged children did not fall further behind other students during their time in education.”

Primary schools taking the lead

The 2007 -2016 data reveals school stage to be of significance: in primary school, disadvantaged students in fact narrowed their gap by 2.8 months however it is at secondary school that the attainment falls behind again.

Rural areas fare worst, where learners are, on average, 25 months behind their peers by the end of KS4.  There are also significant regional variances: in London, the South and the East, the gap is low at 16-18 months but in areas such as the East Midlands and the Humber, disadvantaged children trail behind by an average 22 months. The Isle of Wight bears the widest attainment difference, where its poorest students lag well over two years behind their richer peers, at 29 months.

A symptom of the funding crisis – cash, parents and behaviour?

The Fair Education Alliance, who set a target of 2022 to close the rich-poor divide in GCSE results, point out that the pupils from lower-income families are 4 times more likely to be excluded from school and “three times as likely to receive one or more temporary ‘fixed period exclusions’”. It reports a slight improvement year on year: GCSE results in low-income communities in 2016 were 12.8 months behind those for high-income communities, an improvement (gap narrowing) of 0.3 months.  It is noted that Richmond-upon-Thames and Windsor and Maidenhead have been ‘notably successful’ at improving outcomes for disadvantaged learners. It is no coincidence that these are some of the wealthiest areas in the UK.

The reasons behind the attainment gap are incredibly complex. The difference in primary versus secondary indicates that it is either something in the practice of a primary school that is supportive of these learners but lacking in secondary schools, or that a developmental shift around age 11 leaves those learners more vulnerable to economic influences. However, it is more likely that it is the social influences on these young people that detracts from their learning experience.

Home culture could be the key

Interestingly, children with English as an Additional Language (EAL) have lower attainment during primary school but this gap has fully disappeared by the end of secondary school and in fact they have overtaken their English-speaking peers slightly. This suggests not only that gaps can be closed but crucially, that home culture has a positive part to play.

What’s next?

The average disadvantaged pupil falls behind by two months in each academic year and leaves secondary school almost two years behind. Where success has been seen and sustained, methods now needs to be understood and reproduced elsewhere.

For a fascinating read detailing your own Local Authority results, more on the trends in the EAL group and more data on ethnicity, see the full Education Policy Institute report here.

How does your school use the Pupil Premium funding to close the attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils? Leave us your comments.



References: National Pupil Database (NPD):

With thanks to: Jon Andrews, Director for School System and Performance and Deputy Head of Research at the Education Policy Institute; David Robinson is Director for Post-16 Education and Skills at the Education Policy Institute and Jo Hutchinson is Director for Social Mobility and Vulnerable Learners at the Education Policy Institute.


Author: Katie Newell

Katie Newell

Katie Newell BA(Hons) PGCE is an ex-primary school teacher, Head of Maths, Head of Year five and languages specialist. Katie qualified in Psychology at Liverpool then specialised in Primary Languages for her PGCE at Reading. Before teaching, Katie was a financial commentator and is now the Content Manager for and Katie feels passionately that teachers are the unsung heroes of society; that opening minds to creative timetabling could revolutionise keeping women in teaching, and that a total change to pupil feedback is the key to solving the work life balance issue for the best job in the world.

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