The Education Policy Institute’s 2019 Report on Education (EPI Report) has largely been noticed for the comments about social mobility and the stalling of attempts to close the gaps between disadvantaged and other pupils as this is a key feature of its findings https://epi.org.uk/publications-and-research/epi-annual-report-2019-the-education-disadvantage-gap-in-your-area/ Reasons for this ending of the reduction in the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and other pupils as noted by EPI are the decline in funding for schools and the challenges some schools face in both recruiting and retaining teachers.
This latter explanation is one that has been regularly championed by this blog as likely to have an adverse effect on outcomes. So, it would seem that money matters, and the idea of just providing cash to under-funded local authorities, as seemingly suggested by the new Prime Minister, might not necessarily be the way forward.
However, I do have some concerns about parts of the methodology used by EPI as it relates to the presentation of the data. A focus on local authorities as the key determinant does tend to ignore areas, whether urban or rural that have wide variations in levels of disadvantage within the same local authority boundary. For the two tier shire and district council areas, it would have been better to use the data at a district council level, but that doesn’t help in cities such as Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, and boroughs where there may be wide variations between different parts of the authority. To some extent the data for an authority doesn’t reveal the whole picture and can provide results that might mis-lead the casual reader.
EPI avoids this issue to some extent by producing tables using parliamentary constituencies as the basis for the data. Thus the gap in months at the secondary level relative to non-disadvantaged pupils nationally can differ widely within one authority by looking at data at the level of the parliamentary constituency. For Birmingham, it is 13.6 in Selly Oak, but 19.6 in Ladywood; in Kent it differs between 27.0 for the Dover constituency and 13.8 in Tunbridge Wells.
This is not to say that drawing attention to the gap between where pupils start their education journeys and where they complete them isn’t vitally important at a local authority level. But, providing everyone with equal shares of the cake is not an answer for anyone that wants anything other than administrative simplicity, important though it is to ensure that base funding levels are sufficient for the task in hand.
EPI do make the point in their report that despite no progress in narrowing the disadvantage gap, overall pupil attainment has continued to rise. This suggests that an overall rise in standards does not guarantee a reduction in the disadvantage gap. (Their emphasis).
The Report also highlights the fact that the post-16 education routes taken by young people are becoming increasingly segregated by socio-economic status, with disadvantaged pupils disproportionately represented in certain routes. In particular, the increased segregation is driven by an over-representation of disadvantaged students in further education. These trends may damage the government’s ambition of rectifying imbalances between further and higher education. (Their emphasis).