The gap in GCSE grades between disadvantaged pupils and their peers is the widest in a decade after this summer’s results in England, with school leaders predicting spending cuts will worsen matters.
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The figures published by the Department for Education showed disadvantaged pupils – mainly those eligible for free school meals – had GCSE results on average half a grade lower than children from better-off backgrounds, the widest gap since 2011-12. The opening for children with special education needs was even wider, averaging three-quarters of a grade lower.
The DfE said the widening gap “may be partially explained” by changes to the exams system, which have made qualifications more challenging. But headteachers said it was also due to years of cuts to school budgets, which have left schools struggling to provide the resources and support disadvantaged pupils need to succeed.
One in five (20%) children eligible for free school meals achieved a grade 5 or above in English and maths this summer, compared to 40% of other pupils – a gap of 20 percentage points. This was the widest gap since 2011-12, when it was 21 percentage points.
In 2017-18, the government was spending £2.5bn on its “pupil premium” – a policy which gives schools extra money for each disadvantaged pupil they teach. But this is still not enough to make up for years of cuts to school budgets, which have left schools struggling to provide the resources and support disadvantaged pupils need to succeed.
One headteacher said the widening gap was “a national scandal”, while another called for an urgent injection of funding to close it.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “The government’s claim that it is committed to closing the attainment gap between rich and poor is in tatters.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are committed to levelling up opportunity and ensuring every child has the same chance to succeed – regardless of their background. That’s why we have invested an extra £2.5bn in the pupil premium this year, on top of the £13bn extra we are already spending on schools compared to 2015.
“We know there is more to do, and we will go further by setting out an ambitious education plan later this year, which will focus on improving social mobility.”
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