Sutton Trust says ‘radical’ change is needed to narrow education mobility gap

23 Apr 10
There needs to be ‘radical’ change to narrow the educational mobility gap between children, a think-tank has said
By Jaimie Kaffash

26 April 2010

There needs to be ‘radical’ change to narrow the educational mobility gap between children, a think-tank has said.

The Sutton Trust’s study of children born in 1989/90 was released today. It says that children of uneducated parents in England are far less likely to achieve high results at school than their counterparts in other developed nations. It shows that 56% of 14-year-old children who have parents educated to degree level are in the top quartile of performers. This is compared with 9% of children whose parents left school without O-levels, the qualifications that preceded GCSEs. The 47-percentage point gap compares poorly with Australia (23%), Germany (37%) and the US (43%).

The think-tank says: ‘Stark achievement gaps between children of degree-educated parents and those of uneducated parents remain.’

It adds that the gap widens throughout the school years, particularly when children enter secondary school at age 11. ‘The widening achievement gap is almost entirely accounted for by the fact that children from degree-educated parents are far more likely to attend higher-performing secondary schools and so benefit from a positive school effect,’ it says.

The author of the report, Lee Elliot Major, told Public Finance that the government needed to use innovative methods to prevent England falling further behind. He said the researchers had visited the ‘no excuses’ schools in the US, which take in disadvantaged children at the age of 11.

‘There is a certain educational ethos around them,’ he said. ‘At age 11 you get pupils who can barely read or write. The schools say “we are not going to say these kids can’t make it to college, we will do everything in our power to get them into college by the age of 18”.' Pupils in these schools also spend 50% more time in the classroom, which has proved to be an effective way of boosting results.

Major added that the Sutton Trust was ‘not against ‘ the independently run schools that all the main parties are encouraging, but these were not enough. ‘There is some evidence that more autonomy helps. But it is the basics of good teachers, high expectations, intakes from mixed backgrounds. In and of itself, independently run schools are not going to transform the situation. You need radical approaches to the issue, including longer school days.’

Giving financial incentives to the best teachers to work in more disadvantaged areas would help, he added, but could face opposition from the teaching unions for disrupting nationally agreed pay scales.  

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