Educational inequality for A-Level students was staggering even before coronavirus

Gavin Williamson school
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There was an average attainment gap of three A-Level grades between the richest and most disadvantaged students even before the pandemic, new research has found.

Analysis by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) found that the attainment gap varies across the country. In some areas, such as North Somerset, Stockton-on-Tees, and Knowsley, the attainment gap was closer to five grades.

Many educators have warned the gap will grow significantly during the pandemic, leading to renewed calls for extended catch-up provision for disadvantaged pupils.

The inequality

The EPI analysed data from A-level students from 2017 to 2019. It found that for students who had spent over 80% of their time at school on free school meals, the average gap increased to four A-Level grades.

When previous educational attainment and qualification type were taken into account, less affluent pupils still achieved poorer grades.

As there was no change to the disadvantage gap from 2017 to 2019, the authors of the report said that the gap is “likely to now be worsened by the unequal impact of the pandemic on learning loss”.

Projections from the Education Endowment Fund estimate coronavirus could widen the attainment gap from anywhere between 11% to 75%.

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Need for further support

As a result of the findings, the EPI recommended targeting funding at 16-19 education (i.e. sixth-form and colleges) and interventions to help the most disadvantaged students catch up.

The £350m National Tutoring Programme, intended to help children catch up on missed learning during school closures, has so far only been available for primary and secondary school students. Schools Week reported this programme would be extended for two years.

The Department for Education (DfE) has provided £96m in funding for pupils aged 16-19 for this academic year only.

Economists have already said the national tutoring programme is not likely to be enough to close gaps, calling on the government to increase learning time.

Learning inequality

The problems with ensuring equal access to education during the pandemic have been well-documented.

Disadvantaged students, who are less likely to have an appropriate digital device or home learning environment, have been more affected by school closures. Despite the government’s promise to provide laptops to these children, there were cuts to the numbers schools were allocated and the provision was slowed by delivery issues.

Pupils are currently set to go back to school on 8 March. Experts have emphasised the importance of ensuring online learning is made accessible to all students who may still need to self-isolate.

Sarah Atkinson, CEO of the Social Mobility Foundation, said:

Being poor means being 3 A level grades behind your better off peers – more, in some parts of the country. We should be howling in outrage that this can be so. Let’s make this the yardstick by which we measure the education recovery.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons/Chris McAndrew & Flickr/

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