Closing Gap Between Richest And Poorest Schoolchildren Could Take 40 Years, MPs Warn

Ministers urged to transform education in the most deprived parts of the UK.
PA Wire/PA Images

The government must act to stop children living in social mobility “coldspots” falling even further behind their peers by transforming education in some of the UK’s poorest areas, MPs have urged.

Parliament’s cross-party group on social mobility warned that education was a key factor in social mobility, with research showing that children who have a poor vocabulary aged five are more than twice as likely to be unemployed thirty years later.

But in a report published on Thursday, politicians said at the current rate of change it would take more than 40 years to close the attainment gap between children from disadvantaged and wealthy backgrounds at school.

“Social background and geography are still huge influences on educational success and it will require a combination of big picture thinking and local understanding to change that,” said Labour MP Justin Madders, who chairs the group.

According to the research, pupils from disadvantaged areas typically lag behind their classmates by around half a grade per subject at GCSE. The inquiry heard how this attainment gap was acting as a block on social mobility in areas including Norfolk, Somerset and Blackpool.

However, the outcome was not the same for all children from poor backgrounds – while pupils from disadvantaged families in London were found to perform around the same as the average student nationally, poor pupils in the north east had the lowest scores.

“There are big differences in education outcomes for disadvantaged pupils in different areas,” said Sir Peter Lampl, founder of education charity the Sutton Trust. “This regional attainment gap acts as a major roadblock to social mobility, creating social mobility ‘coldspots’ where your chances of getting on in life are slim.”

MPs are now asking the government to focus on education in some of the UK’s poorest areas, calling for ring-fenced funding for children’s centres and “high-quality early years provision”.

Meanwhile, efforts should be made to reduce teacher stress and workloads, especially those working in challenging schools, they said.

Madders added: “We need to see policy change at a national level, such as repurposing the pupil premium into a new ‘social mobility premium’. This would send a strong signal that there is government determination, backed by resources, to deliver real improvements in social mobility.”

According to research by the Sutton Trust even a “moderate” increase in social mobility in the UK – bringing it in line with average levels across western Europe – would bring about an increase in GDP of £590 per person.

The Department for Education has been contacted for comment.

Before You Go