Good schooling in England is still “patchy” and more must be done to ensure all children, especially those from poorer backgrounds, get a decent education, according to a report.
It suggests that while progress has been made in improving standards, this has been uneven, with some youngsters still missing out because of where they live or the family they come from.
The state-of-the nation report card, published by the Fair Education Alliance (FEA) - a group of education organisations - says more action is needed, such as an overhaul of careers guidance and more work by schools to promote student well-being.
In 2014, the alliance published five national targets to be achieved by 2022, to help close the gap in opportunities and achievement between rich and poor children.
These goals were to narrow the gap in literacy and numeracy achievement in primary schools and at GCSE, ensure young people develop key strengths such as character and good mental health, narrow the gulf in the numbers of youngsters continuing their education and training after GCSEs and narrowing the gap between rich and poor students graduating from university.
The latest report looks at the progress made against these targets.
It claims that while there have been some advances in the last 12 months - for example, GCSE results improving in the North East of England, and the university graduation gap closing slightly - in general, progress has been static.
In a foreword to the report, FEA chairman Sir Richard Lambert says the latest report card shows that some schools and regions are succeeding in providing a high quality education for pupils, irrespective of background, and this is to be celebrated.
“More parents who can afford to make the choice are now choosing to send their children to state schools, many more of which are featuring in the lists of the nation’s top performers,” he says.
“But the big picture is still much too patchy. Progress is uneven, and in some cases non-existent. And the report card shows that inequality is not just the result of income differentials.
"There is also a geographic divide between good and bad outcomes.
“On the current trajectory, the targets that we have set for reducing inequality in the school and higher education system by 2022 will not be achieved.
"That would leave another generation of young people condemned to second-class schooling through no fault of their own. So we have to redouble our efforts.”
The alliance calls for a number of reforms to help boost standards and close the achievement gap.
These include more investment in early years education, ensuring that all schools have access to good examples of top quality teaching and leadership, decent careers guidance for all pupils, extra support for teachers such as a mortgage deposit scheme to help high-performing school staff to get on to the housing ladder, and promoting and measuring character development, well-being and mental health in schools.
The report concludes: “At national level, some progress has been made in closing the gaps for some of the poorest children and young people in England.
“Despite small overall improvements in outcomes for these young people, progress is uneven and education still remains particularly unfair in some parts of the country.
“In mapping the education journey of children at schools serving low income communities or those from poor families, a school pattern emerges.
"Within the same area, poorer children are better served by some schools than others, and in these better schools they are achieving above expectation.
"Often underpinning this success are a whole school approach to achievement, enrichment activities, the development of character and high expectations.”
Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "School leaders are determined to narrow the attainment gap and unlock the potential of all young people. Doing so is one of the keys to breaking the cycle of disadvantage from one generation to the next.
"The Fair Education Alliance's suggestion of a mortgage deposit scheme as an incentive to attract teachers to an area is an innovative approach which we welcome. Schools across the country are experiencing significant difficulties in recruiting teachers and this is particularly acute in the most challenging areas. More must be done to attract people into teaching in general and in particular into these areas."
Lee Elliot Major, chief executive of the Sutton Trust charity, said: "We welcome the report from the alliance. It highlights the real challenges that remain in narrowing the attainment gap in schools and the access gap at university, despite some improvements.
"It is particularly worrying that the access gap to our best universities is widening, and this highlights just how important it is that teachers ensure that their less advantaged but highly able students get the support and advice they need to fulfil their potential. The pupil premium has a big role to play here alongside a national programme for highly able students."