Nick Clegg to lead commission into school attainment gaps

12 Jan 16

Former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has launched a cross-party commission to investigate how to close regional gaps in school attainment that have widened over the past 30 years.

The Commission on Inequality in Education, which was set up by the think-tank Social Market Foundation, today set out details on the extent of regional disparities in school performance.

It found GCSE performance at age 16 across England and Wales shows variations between regions, with over 70% of pupils in London achieving five good GCSEs compared to 63% in Yorkshire and Humber.

According to the SMF, such regional inequalities had worsened in some places over the last three decades. Comparing the performance of 11-year-olds born in 2000 with those born in 1970 revealed that the geographic area a child comes from has become a more powerful predictive factor of school performance over those years.

Speaking at the launch of the commission in Westminster, former Liberal Democrat leader Clegg said it was clear that inequality in education “comes in many shapes and sizes”.

He added: “The Social Market Foundation has analysed how well children aged eleven performed over three generations – those born in 1958, 1970 and 2000 – using verbal reasoning tests which could be compared accurately across all three groups.

“For the youngest group – those who are in secondary school today – there were stark differences in performance in different regions. Those living in London, the South East and the North West had the highest proportion of high scores. Whereas those living in the North East, Yorkshire and the West Midlands had the highest proportions of poor scores.”

SMF director Emran Mian added that the research indicated geography played a bigger role in determining educational achievement than parental income.

Clegg said the Commission on Inequality in Education would look at how this could be tackled, and highlighted that better performance by children in inner-city London and Birmingham showed improvements were possible.

“Postcode inequality is an issue which requires much more work in order to fully understand – and that is the work this commission will be doing,” he said.

“We will compare the performance of schools in different areas – built up urban areas versus isolated communities for example – and also compare high-achieving schools with under-performing ones in similar areas.

“We need to find out what it is that makes the difference in these schools and where innovative thinking and best practice can be identified and applied to other places.”

Other commissioners include Conservative MP Suella Fernandes and Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, as well as Rebecca Allen, director of the research organisation Education Datalab, and Sam Freedman, the executive director of Programmes at Teach First.

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