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Education for in/equality? Challenging the socio-economic gap in educational attainment

The GSE was delighted to host Professor Becky Francis, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, who gave our St Luke’s Day Lecture on October 15th. Professor Francis discussed the issue of the socio-economic gap in educational attainment, particularly in the light of Covid-19. Below, we present a short precis of the presentation, and some useful links to follow:

  • https://nationaltutoring.org.uk/
  • https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/covid-19-resources/national-tutoring-programme/


As well as reviewing current trends in attainment in order to highlight the profound impact of socioeconomic background on educational attainment (and therefore life opportunities) Professor Francis particularly discussed the worrying impact of Covid-19 and school closures. Citing IFS research that suggests that children from better off families spent 30% more time on home learning while schools were closed, she presented the stark prediction that the socio-economic attainment gap will grow by between 11% and 75% as a result of school closures in 2020, more than reversing the progress on narrowing the gap seen over the last decade. The EEF predicts that the gap will widen most in mathematics and for younger children.


What causes the gap?

Social factors – financial capital, social and cultural capital

  • Financial capital – includes access to different options for schooling (e.g. moving to a better catchment area), out-of-school enrichment, tuition
  • Social capital- including parental networks, connections, higher quality work experience and access to internships, knowing how to negotiate ‘the education game’
  • Cultural capital – parents’ positive educational experiences which engender ease and confidence for both parents and children when engaging with schooling, parent and child self-assurance, parents’ ability to have constructive conversations with teachers and to advocate for their child.

Unequal starting points: including school readiness, vocabulary, attention and hyperactivity, early reading

Unequal access to quality provision – children from disadvantaged backgrounds are underrepresented in high attaining schools and over-represented in RI/inadequate schools. The attainment gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students exists across all Ofsted school categories, but disadvantaged pupils in outstanding schools perform as well as non-disadvantaged pupils in schools rated as requiring improvement or inadequate. The impact of teaching quality is particularly strong in influencing educational outcomes, but is doubly strong for disadvantaged students. However, these students are less likely to access subject specialists (only 37% of maths 11% of physics teachers have relevant degrees in some schools in areas of deprivation).

Expectations both in terms of teacher expectations and parental/student aspiration – and the impact of this is particularly pernicious when students are misassigned to low streams or sets: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/evidence-summaries/teaching-learning-toolkit/setting-or-streaming/

Unequal access to a high quality, bespoke, curriculum

Less likely to access quality support and experience outside of school

What supports disadvantaged students?

Compensatory Approaches to address unequal starting points – not a sticking plaster, but to address profound inequalities, focus on early literacy and numeracy interventions.

Access to high quality provision and high quality teaching, high quality ITE, CPD, Teacher support and retention, policies to incentivise and develop high quality teachers, incentivising teachers to work in areas of deprivation and to stay there, supporting teachers to stay and thrive in schools with high numbers of disadvantaged pupils.

Approaches that address different capitals – to address additional enrichment, curriculum and careers guidance, high quality work experience, educational advice, links, experiences, guidance, not provided outside school.

Challenging stereotypes and low expectations applied to pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The importance of research and the aims of the EEF:

  • to provide the best available knowledge about what works to narrow the gap, for teachers and school leaders
  • to inform difficult decisions about how to invest time and resources
  • to protect schools from fads and fakes which create workload but don’t make a difference
  • to support teachers to implement and evaluate new strategies.

For more information about the work of the Education Endowment Foundation, please visit: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/

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