20th July 2016

Divergent Pathways: the disadvantage gap, accountability and the pupil premium

EPI’s Annual Report earlier in the year found that by the end of secondary school, disadvantaged children were on average 19 months behind their peers, this new report, Divergent Pathways: the disadvantage gap, accountability and the pupil premium examines how that gap grows across the early years, primary and secondary phases and the extent to which different types of schools are closing the gap. This is done by focusing on the ‘progress gap’ which measures the rate at which disadvantaged children fall behind their peers from one key stage to another.

This research is timely given the new Prime Minister’s first speech made a commitment to improving life chances, and the findings should inform the new Education Secretary’s priorities, such as confirming the new funding formula.

Key findings

  1. Both primary and secondary schools with low proportions (less than 8 and 10 per cent respectively) of disadvantaged pupils have failed to close the gap over the past ten years. In primary schools with less than 8 per cent disadvantaged pupils, the progress gap has more than doubled from 1.1 months in 2009 to 2.6 months in 2015.
  2. Around 40 per cent of the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers is present at age 5. This suggests that more needs to be done before formal schooling in order to address educational inequality.
  3. Primary schools with high proportions of disadvantaged children (more than 45 per cent) have closed completely the key stage 2 progress gap over the last decade. This means, between key stage 1 and key stage 2, disadvantaged children make the same level of progress as their peers do nationally.
  4. Primary schools where many disadvantaged pupils are almost reaching national benchmarks have also shown significant improvement in closing the gap over the last five years –  it has closed from 2.2 months to 0.7 months since 2011. The combination of floor standards encouraging schools to focus on the attainment of ‘borderline’ pupils, and the pupil premium introducing new resources and accountability for disadvantaged pupils may have supported the strong improvements in this group of schools.

Policy Recommendations

  • Continue to provide the pupil premium as a separate and clearly identifiable grant targeted at disadvantaged pupils;
  • Quantify the deprivation component of the national funding formula for schools, ensuring that it represents at least 7% of the Dedicated Schools grant, and consider protecting the value of this component against projected cost pressures;
  • Require schools to include a measure of progress by disadvantaged pupils on their website as a ‘headline’ performance measure, and increase the prominence of three-year aggregated measures of progress and attainment in the performance tables – particularly for primary schools where numbers of disadvantaged pupils in a single year group often fail to reach the minimum required for the statistics to be published;
  • Include measures of the progress of disadvantaged pupils should be into the government’s performance statistics for multi-academy trusts (and this should also extend to local authorities); and
  • Prioritise policies to increase the educational quality of age 3-4 childcare, and increase the uptake of the targeted 2-year-old offer above the implementation of the 30-hour offer.  The latter is not available to the most disadvantaged families and amounts to a cash transfer to better-off families.