Improvements in exam results among poorer secondary school students in England compared with those from less disadvantaged backgrounds stagnated last year, raising concerns about a reversal in social mobility after nearly a decade of progress.
Between 2017 and 2018, students receiving free school meals during their education were 18.1 months behind others in GCSE English and maths by the time they left secondary school, compared with 17.9 months in the previous year, according to official data analysed by the think-tank Education Policy Institute.
The report revealed:
- By the time they leave secondary school, disadvantaged pupils are now over 18.1 months behind non-disadvantaged pupils. This gap has increased slightly from last year, by 0.2 months.
- Large disadvantage gaps remain well-established in several areas in England but are particularly acute in the North. In Rotherham and Blackpool, poorer pupils are trailing their peers by over two years by the time they finish their GCSEs, on average.
- In contrast, at primary school, the gap continues to close. By the time they leave primary school, disadvantaged pupils are now 9.2 months behind their peers – a narrowing of 0.3 months since 2017.
The report suggests that the worsening picture for students in secondary schools may be explained by their greater exposure to the financial pressures on schools and children’s services and lower rates of funding per students on low incomes compared with primary schools.