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Is it time to take the disadvantage gap seriously?
07th November 2019
Beth Prescott, TLG's Policy Lead, attended the Education Policy Institute's conference on child poverty and disadvantage earlier this week. She writes about one of the issues discussed at this event that particularly impacted her - the educational disadvantage gap.
'The main hope of a nation lies in the proper education of its youth' (Erasmus)
A good education is the foundation for a young person to build their future on. To empower the next generation, we need to ensure they are provided with a comprehensive education and opportunities to develop.
Recent research by the Education Policy Institute (EPI), however, suggests disadvantaged pupils are currently falling behind their peers academically.
The EPI's annual report found that disadvantaged pupils are, on average, 18 months behind the rest of the class academically by aged 16. This is even more prevalent for persistently disadvantaged children, with the gap increasing to 22.6 months by the time they finish high school.
The disadvantage gap is already present from an early age. In early years education a disadvantaged child is already starting 4.5 months behind. This increases consistently as a child progresses through school rising to 9.2 months by the time they leave primary school and hitting that staggering 18 month mark by the end of a pupil's GCSEs. In other words, the longer a child progresses through school, the further behind they are at risk of falling academically.
In past years the gap has been narrowing. However, over the last few years this has happened at an increasingly slow rate and in 2018 the gap actually widened. We do not yet know what will happen in 2019, but there are some concerns this could be a turning point in the trend and the gap will now start to widen again.
At the current rate, it is projected that it will be over 500 years before the disadvantage gap is closed.
Noticeably, there are some geographical differences in the disadvantage gap with some areas reducing the gap, whereas others have seen the gap widening for a number of years. While London is home to some of the most deprived areas of the UK, the disadvantage gap is smaller in some areas for example 5.3 months in Tower Hamlets. In contrast, in Blackpool poorer pupils are over two years behind their peers by the end of high school.
The reasons for the disadvantage gap are multiple and complex. There is no simple reason why and there is no one simple solution. There are a number of potential factors which could impact the gap, including a child's early development, deprivation, the home and family environment - along with many other social, environmental and psychological factors. Reversing the trend and closing the gap will require a multi-causal approach that proactively brings together relevant bodies, offering a united, well-informed and consistent response that everyone can work towards.
At TLG we are committed to reaching out to some of the most vulnerable children in the UK offering vital and life transforming help to those sturggling with mainstream education, which can be due to a variety of often complex reasons.
Our fantastic TLG Early Intervention coaches work one to one with children who are struggling in the classroom for a variety of reasons. This can include helping them learn coping mechanisms for their emotions, talking through what is worrying them and working through any difficulties they are having with their lessons. This leads to a rise in their levels of learning and helps them engage more with their education. 96% of teachers report that children were more settled in school after starting their one to one coaching.
TLG Education Centres bring vital support for disadvantaged and excluded young people at crisis point in education. They offer excluded children a chance to catch up on any missed education and work towards their qualifications. This takes place in a caring environment that offers mentoring and pastoral support to equip the students in any challenges they may be facing. As a result, 88% of our Education Centre students make expected or better than expected progress in English and Maths.
Over the coming months, TLG will be looking into how we can further do our bit, working with others, to close this educational disadvantage gap. We want every child to know they have hope and a future, regardless of their background.
Note: in their report the EPI class disadvantaged children as those who have been eligible for free school meals at any point in the last six years and persistently disadvantaged children as those who have been eligible for free school meals for at least 80% of their time in school.
Before coming to TLG, Beth worked as a Fundraising Project Manager for poverty-relief charity Christians Against Poverty. Beth also has experience in the political sector, having worked for a Government Minister. She was one of the youngest Parliamentary candidates in the country in the 2015 and 2017 General Elections, narrowly missing out on a seat in Parliament in 2017. Beth is a season ticket holder at Huddersfield Town and enjoys hiking through the Yorkshire countryside followed by a local ale in the pub.