Free schools & academies can only close GCSE attainment gap by a fifth
- Published on Friday, 07 September 2012 11:02
- Posted by Vicki Mitchem
Improving school performance, through academy and free schools status, will not be enough to close the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils in England's schools, according to a new report published by the think tank IPPR next week.
The report urges Michael Gove and Nick Clegg to reform the Pupil Premium, expand personal tuition and invest more in early years education.
The report shows that pupils from deprived areas are about as likely to attend a school rated 'satisfactory or inadequate' as wealthier pupils are likely to attend a school rated 'outstanding'. But simply having more outstanding schools will not be enough to close the attainment gap. Even if every pupil in the country attended an outstanding school, the achievement gap between the poorest and wealthiest pupils would only be cut by a fifth. There would still be a gap of 40 GCSE points between the poorest and wealthiest pupils (the equivalent of one grade higher in 7 GCSEs taken). This is because the overall level of attainment is shifted upwards so the gap between rich and poor remains.
The report argues more attention needs to be paid to how the gap between rich and poor can be narrowed within each school. IPPR's report urges the Government to reform the Pupil Premium and ensure that schools target those pupils who are falling behind when they start out in Year 7, by placing them in small groups focused on literacy and numeracy until they reach the average level of performance for their age group. Small group tuition has been shown to improve pupil learning by the equivalent of an additional six months of progress over the course of a school year.
The report argues that this approach has been adopted by world-leading school systems such as Finland, where nearly half of pupils receive some form of catch-up tuition over the course of their school career. The report shows that Finland tops international rankings by raising the performance of its lowest achievers, as well as stretching the brightest. In Finland, only 8 % of pupils fail to reach basic proficiency in reading, compared to 19% in England.
IPPR has calculated that around half of the achievement gap at age sixteen was already present when those pupils started secondary school. Programmes in primary school and early years will also be important for closing the gap. The report shows that the impact achieved by a pre-kindergarten programme in Boston, USA, would be enough to close the England's pre-school attainment gap entirely.
Nick Pearce, IPPR Director, said:
"Education is the springboard to a better life and the achievement gap at GCSE matters greatly for life chances and social mobility. Only a fifth of the lowest achievers at age 16 go on to acquire any sort of further education or training, while at the other end of the spectrum good GCSEs are an essential requirement for entry to a top university.
"School improvement policies are a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for closing the GCSE attainment gap. Around half of the achievement gap at age sixteen was already present when those pupils started secondary school. Schools need to spend the Pupil Premium on targeting pupils who fall behind but we need more investment in high quality early years, pre-school education."