Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, comments on the EPI report highlighting the need to improve outcomes of GCSE pupils in poverty and close the disadvantage gap for college and sixth form students.
“This report shows that poverty and educational outcomes are inextricably intertwined in our deeply unequal society. Put simply, it is difficult for a child to learn if they live cold and hungry lives and face other challenges caused by disadvantage.
“Schools are great agents of social change but they cannot alone overcome the challenges caused by grinding poverty. The government's levelling up plans and its forthcoming education white paper include measures aimed at improving educational attainment.
“But the scope to narrow the gap between rich and poor will continue to be limited unless this is accompanied by action to tackle the scourge of child poverty. In truth, schools throw the kitchen sink at trying to improve outcomes, not helped by a government which too often thinks that setting some new targets and accountability metrics constitutes meaningful policy.
“The EPI report shows that the government must change the tune - or the gap between rich and poor will remain.
“The lack of funding for 16 to 19-year-olds, over many years, has meant that schools and colleges have had to cut subject choices, teaching hours and enrichment activities. Less well-off students cannot access extra support outside of school and college to fill the gaps and, as a consequence, they have achieved results which are over three grades lower than their more affluent peers.
“This is a persistent disadvantage gap that actually got worse last year and which continues to directly impact on students’ life chances, including their choice of university.
“The extra money that has been recently earmarked for 16-19 students is no more than a finger in the dam and a long way short of stopping this deeply concerning direction of travel. The government must act now to properly finance this very important phase of education.”