Why the education gap won’t close
The education gap widened after it closed for the first time in over a decade.
In August, the Education Policy Institute (EPI) published their annual report for 2020, which examines the education gap at a local level, across different subjects and groups of pupils. The report published several worrying findings, including:
- The attainment gap between poorer and richer pupils has stopped closing for the first time in a decade.
- Disadvantaged pupils are 18.1 months of learning behind, compared to the wealthier pupils, by the time they finish their GCSEs
- For the first time since 2007, the gap at primary school has widened
- For students who are persistently disadvantaged, the attainment gap had widened every year
- Interestingly, the gap had been stalling even before the COVID pandemic
The annual report arrived at the conclusion that “this was the worrying position from which the school system entered the pandemic and lockdown in 2020, which are widely expected to worsen disadvantage gaps.”
Some may argue that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and contributed towards the widening of the gap. For instance, according to the report published by Camden Council, COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on ethnic minorities. The Somali community have raised concerns that their children’s education will suffer as a result of having a lack of access to digital resources and equipment such as computers and internet, and unsuitable environments to work in. The Bangladeshi community has also expressed their concerns over negative impacts of health and wellbeing in multigenerational, overcrowded households. Such households may not have suitable work environments for children and students to work effectively. Ethnic minority communities have also previously reported that they worry about their children receiving lower predicted grades.
These fears have arguably been confirmed. For instance, Ofqual published their annual report and found that disadvantaged students had suffered the most under this year’s standardisation process used for the national exams. For students who were entering higher education, more than one in 10 of those considered to receive C grades by their teachers had their final result lowered by at least one grade, in comparison to 8% of those from non-disadvantaged backgrounds. Furthermore, the gap between those on Free School Meals and those not on Free School Meals had widened, as well as the gap for those who had special education needs and disabilities. In general, 39.1% of teacher recommendations were downgraded.
Yet, the number of A’s and A*’s awarded to independent schools rose by 4.7%, which is more than twice the number of state comprehensive schools. Despite the clear gap between grades awarded to independent, private, and comprehensive school students, Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the standardisation process ‘robust’ and ‘dependable.’ On the other hand, Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, stated that ‘something has obviously gone horribly wrong with this year’s results.’ He further commented that ‘[it’s] thousands of young people whose opportunities have been dashed’.
National exams were cancelled for this year, so it therefore seems likely that the education gap may widen once more, despite reassurances that Ofqual is reviewing the award and standardisation process. The only changes that would truly make results fairer are fundamental changes in the structure of society.
Education plays a key role in the hopes, dreams, and futures of young people. However, such hopes may diminish within disadvantaged students, due to the education system that favours those who are wealthier. JAN Trust recognises that such flaws must be minimised and abolished for disadvantaged pupils to receive the opportunities they deserve. As always, we will continue to fight for the futures of those who are undermined and marginalised by the unfair system.