Children living with disadvantage: How can we support with narrowing the gap?

By Paul Thornton posted 07-10-2022 09:41

For 20 years leading up to the pandemic the attainment gap** was slowly narrowing in England. This year, the first year of official assessments since the pandemic, the gap between pupils living with disadvantage* and their more privileged peers has widened.

The headline statistic was the revelation that the disadvantage gap at KS2 is now back to around the same size as it was in 2012 – marking a lost decade of progress.

Some key statistics***:

By age 11
- The disadvantage gap index (the relative attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and all other pupils) rose from 2.91 in 2019 to 3.21; the highest since 2012 (3.23)
- Persistence absence remains higher in disadvantaged pupils than non-disadvantaged

By age 16
- Attainment gap in both English and Maths widened slightly
- Regional differences in educational attainment remain. The gap in top grades between the North East and London has actually widened. Attainment in London and the South East was far greater than in every other area
- Disadvantaged pupils missed far more school than their peers through the 2 year GCSE period, particularly around the emergence of new variants of COVID19

Post 16 and careers
- Around 1 in 7 non-disadvantaged students are not in sustained work or education 5 years after their GCSEs, this number more than doubles for those living with disadvantage
- Disadvantaged pupils are more likely to end up out of sustained work or education (33%) than they are to go to university (27%)

So what are some of the reasons for this stark reading and how can we help?

If children are not being taught by impactful teachers and are missing structure, enrichment and role models in their daily lives then the impact on outcomes is going to be negative.

Many schools did a great job providing remote learning at home, however this negatively impacted most disadvantaged young people as they are the most likely not to access it, either by choice or otherwise - compounding an existing set of problems. Pupils living with disadvantage are far less likely to have structure, opportunities, and role models in their lives outside of school, so are highly reliant to get that from their school or college.

Effective ways to support children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds include:
- High quality teaching
- Role models
- STEM capital
- Quality of opportunity to access enrichment
- Careers and transition support
- High levels of parental participation

Some questions for you, your teams and your schools to consider:

- How can we put more role models in front of disadvantaged pupils and in more disadvantaged areas?
- How do we ensure disadvantaged students are living and breathing STEM in and out schools, through their knowledge and skill building as well as the experiences and social interaction they are receiving?
- How can we take advantage of the huge opportunities in enrichment and how can we ensure it is the disadvantaged pupils being advantaged by the enrichment they wouldn't normally receive?
- How do we support our disadvantaged pupils to follow a STEM career and not to drop off at A Level/post16 and ensure they are in sustained work in 5 years after their GCSE?
- The toughest of them all; how can we support parental engagement in and out of school?

We can all make a real impact on this important challenge. What will you do?

*The DfE defines disadvantaged as those who are “eligible for free school meals at any point within the past six years and students looked after by the local authority” persistent disadvantaged is those who have “had free school meals for 80% or more of their school life”.

**Attainment gap is “the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers at key stage 2 (primary) and key stage 4 (secondary)”

*** Further government statistics and insight will be released later in the Autumn term



16-05-2023 07:13

Hi Paul,

In answer to your question 'How can we put more role models in front of disadvantaged pupils and in more disadvantaged areas?'. 
I would recommend using the 
STEM Ambassadors programme supported by UK Research and Innvoation.

03-11-2022 12:57

Please could you share the source for these statistics? (when available).
@Paul Thornton

14-10-2022 08:10

Parental engagement is a massive one from the research, can be just as simple as sending home updates on what learners are doing in school so parents can link their home life experiences to the learning content.

08-10-2022 10:13

I think that school acts as structure for those pupils for a variety of reasons and  covid lockdown etc removed that and it will take time for pupils to come around to it again. there is still a fear among some parents about covid and they choose not to send their children to school which has added to persistent absence figures.
There is no easy answer but .........good quality teaching that inspires/enthuses the pupils and gets them engaged will help disadvantaged and all pupils and schools need to work more closely with parents...s0me are scared of school as they had bad experiences and this has an impact on their children....... we need to actively engage with those parents to help overcome these disadvantages.Schools are working hard and have done a great job over the last two years...we just need to continue to work at it.