The Education Policy Institute (EPI), in partnership with the Fair Education Alliance (FEA), has published its flagship Annual Report on the state of education in England.

The new report examines the progress made in closing the gap in educational attainment between disadvantaged pupils and their peers, known as ‘the disadvantage gap’. The measure is a leading indicator of social mobility.

The research, which is based on the latest Department for Education data, also considers how the gap has changed since 2011 and how it varies across the country. It also looks at how pupils from different backgrounds perform, as well as the routes taken by students after taking their GCSEs.

You can download the report here.

Key findings


The education disadvantage gap in England: the latest trends

  • The gap in GCSE attainment between disadvantaged pupils and non-disadvantaged pupils has stopped closing.
  • By the time they leave secondary school, disadvantaged pupils are now over 18.1 months behind non-disadvantaged pupils. This gap has increased slightly from last year, by 0.2 months.
  • In the early years (pupils in reception year), the gap has also stopped closing – having widened slightly by 0.1 months to 4.5 months.
  • In contrast, at primary school, the gap continues to close. By the time they leave primary school, disadvantaged pupils are now 9.2 months behind their peers – a narrowing of 0.3 months since 2017.
  • For the most persistently disadvantaged pupils the gap has narrowed at primary level but widened at secondary level. This means that these pupils – the very worst-off – are almost two years (22.6 months) behind all other pupils by the time they finish their GCSEs.
  • Despite no progress in narrowing the disadvantage gap, overall pupil attainment has continued to rise. This suggests that an overall rise in standards does not guarantee a reduction in the disadvantage gap.   

How long until the GCSE disadvantage gap closes?

  • Over recent years, there has been a dramatic slowing down in the closure of the disadvantage gap to the extent that the five year rolling average now suggests that it would take 560 years to close the gap. However, the most recent data shows an increase in the gap in 2018 suggesting there is a real risk that we could be at a turning point and that we could soon enter a period where the gap starts to widen.

How does the disadvantage gap vary in different areas in England?

  • Large disadvantage gaps remain well-established in several areas in England but are particularly acute in the North. In Rotherham and Blackpool, poorer pupils are trailing their peers by over two years by the time they finish their GCSEs, on average.
  • London continues to dominate areas with the smallest disadvantage gaps. Poorer pupils are only 3.9 months behind their peers at GCSE in Westminster, and 5.3 months behind in Tower Hamlets.
  • Some areas have been highly successful at reducing levels of disadvantage in education since 2012. These include Bournemouth (reducing the GCSE gap by 6.5 months), Richmond upon Thames (5.8 months) and Waltham Forest (4.5 months).
  • Other areas, however, have regressed, with the gap having widened since 2012. This is especially apparent in the North West of England: in Bury, Halton and Wigan, the gap has increased by around 5 months over this period.

How are different pupil groups performing?

  • There are huge disparities between pupil groups, including by ethnicity. By the end of secondary school, Chinese and Indian pupils perform significantly better than their White British peers – moving ahead of them by 24.8 and 14.2 months respectively.
  • At the other end of the scale, Gypsy/Roma pupils are almost 3 years behind White British pupils (by 34.1 months) by the end of secondary. Travellers of Irish Heritage are 28.9 months behind, while for Black Caribbean pupils the figure is 9.3 months.  
  • Black Caribbean pupils have experienced poor progress since 2011, having slipped a further 2.2 months behind White British pupils. In stark contrast, Pakistani pupils have made large gains on their White British peers, having been 3.4 months behind in 2011, but just 0.5 months behind in 2018.
  • Pupils with special educational needs remain the furthest behind: 40 months by the end of secondary school for those with greater needs. The government should consider whether it is providing adequate support to this group of pupils ahead of the upcoming Spending Review.
  • With the exception of Black Caribbean pupils, White and Black Caribbean pupils and White and Black African pupils, all other ethnic groups have either pulled further away from White British pupils or have caught up with them to some degree, compared to 2011.

Disadvantage after GCSEs: Post-16 education routes

  • The post-16 education routes taken by young people are becoming increasingly segregated by socio-economic status, with disadvantaged pupils disproportionately represented in certain routes.  
  • In particular, the increased segregation is driven by an over-representation of disadvantaged students in further education. These trends may damage the government’s ambition of rectifying imbalances between further and higher education.


Additional documents and resources

Geographical analysis pack: breakdowns including by local authority and parliamentary constituency.
Education gap data: an interactive version of the geographical breakdowns, with downloadable data tables.
Infographic: What are the causes of the education disadvantage gap?
Infographic: Key findings from the report
Technical Appendix

This report has been produced in partnership with the Fair Education Alliance (FEA).