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Friday Insights (2nd August)

Caitlin Ross, 02/08/19

This week’s Friday insight will focus on the Disadvantage Gap research released by the Education Policy Institute, as it featured quite heavily in education and learning headlines this week. The findings have implications for everything from post 16 destinations to school spend and are worth reading in full. It also revealed that, for the first time in nearly a decade, the GCSE attainment gap between those of more advantaged and less advantaged backgrounds has stopped narrowing.
The EPI released a helpful summary of its findings, which are many, and worth reading in full. Here are some of the findings that really stuck with us upon first read:

  1. The gap in GCSE attainment between disadvantaged pupils and non-disadvantaged pupils has stopped closing.
  2. 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.
  3. Despite no progress in narrowing the disadvantage gap, overall pupil attainment has continued to rise. This suggests that an overall rise in standards does not guarantee a reduction in the disadvantage gap. 
  4. Over recent years, there has been a dramatic slowing down in the closure of the disadvantage gap to the extent that the five year rolling average now suggests that it would take 560 years to close the gap. However, the most recent data shows an increase in the gap in 2018 suggesting there is a real risk that we could be at a turning point and that we could soon enter a period where the gap starts to widen.

The findings also delve into how this gap differs between different regions on England and between groups of different ethnic backgrounds, and the class gap in post 16 destinations. There’s lots to learn both from the report, and from the Twitter discussion hosted in partnership with the Fair Education Alliance. I highly recommend reading over the questions and answers if you want to learn more about the implications of these findings – just search the hashtags #DisadvantageGap and #MakeEducationFair. Responding to the release of the research, Sam Butters of the Fair Education Alliance makes an important point:

our young people can’t wait 500+ years for this attainment gap to close.

It’s important to note that there is more to thriving in life than just passing tests at 16: the finding that overall attainment rates are rising despite the fact that the disadvantage gap is no longer narrowing could that not only is our current system failing to set all young people up to thrive within its definition of success (i.e. 5 GCSE grades 5-9), but that our current definitions of success are not sufficient for setting young people up to thrive in life.


As members of the FEA, we’re proud to support their aims to bring about a fair education through supporting a curriculum that develops the whole child, supporting great teachers to work in the areas that need them most, and better support for post 16 destination. We’re also trying to do our part to bring about more equitable outcomes for young people through education and learning by backing project partners that are: 

  • Preventing gaps from forming in the first place through early development and parental engagement, 
  • Making education and learning more inclusive for all young people
  • Supporting teachers to best use their passion and knowledge to best support the young people they teach

Wishing everyone a lovely sunny weekend – we’re looking forward to following the discussion around the EPI research as more of the bright minds in education and learning digest the implications of the findings.