The learning gap between rich and poor primary age pupils in England has widened for the first time since 2007, analysis of government data suggests.

In addition, figures for both primary and secondary education show progress in helping poorer pupils catch up has stalled overall.

The 2019 figures show the shift began even before the pandemic, says the Education Policy Institute.

The government said September’s return to school was a “national priority”.

The analysis highlights that policymakers have not adequately responded to warnings that progress in closing the attainment gap was “losing momentum”, says the EPI.

The researchers identify the increasing proportion of children in persistent poverty as a key cause of the reversal which, they say, is becoming more entrenched each year.

It is widely expected that lockdown school closures will widen the gap even further, says the EPI.

Disadvantaged secondary pupils are more than 18 months behind their better-off classmates by the time they take their GCSEs – the same as five years ago, the researchers found.

The study also highlights several strong indications that the overall gap has started to widen, including:

  • disadvantaged primary pupils more than nine months behind, with the gap widening for the first time since 2007
  • disadvantaged reception pupils nearly five months behind, the same as in 2013
  • last year’s report said it would take more than 500 years to close the gap – now it looks as if it is no longer closing at all, says the EPI

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said with children coming to school too hungry to learn, education staff had been working flat out to tackle the effects of poverty, even before the pandemic.

He said the new school term was “the government’s chance to right the wrong of society-wide inequality and its impact on educational achievement”.

In a statement, the Department for Education did not directly respond to the report’s finding that progress on narrowing the learning gap was stalling even before lockdown, but said it was determined to counter educational disruption caused by the pandemic.

“Our £1bn Covid catch-up package will tackle the impact of lost teaching time, including a £650m catch-up premium to help schools support all pupils and the £350m National Tutoring Programme for disadvantaged students.

The full story, as reported by the BBC can be found here.


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