Poorer students lagging behind at secondary school

Poorer pupils are making less and less progress in secondary school than children from higher economic backgrounds, according to the Social Mobility Commission. This even applies to children who did well in primary school; highlighting the importance of continued support at secondary school.

The gap between poorer pupils and their more affluent peers has increased every year since 2012.

These conclusions are based of the GCSE results of pupils on free school meals versus those who were not, across two sets of eight subjects, and measured against their primary school performance.

Poorer children are more likely to:

  • be placed in lower sets
  • have less access to the highest qualified teachers
  • have lower expectations set for them
  • have behavioural issues
  • be excluded.

On average, children on free school meals made between a quarter and a third of a GCSE grade less progress than their more affluent peers.

Home life has a big impact, with poorer students less likely to:

  • benefit from effective homework routines
  • have access to books and computers
  • have parents help with their work.

It is important for schools to do as much as possible to lessen the effect of a disadvantaged background for students. The commission urged schools to:

  • recruit good quality teachers in areas where poorer pupils are particularly effected
  • set universally high expectations across schools, and beware of streaming
  • analyse progress using data and intervene where necessary
  • target resources at first year secondary pupils

Commission chairman Alan Milburn said: “If social mobility is to improve, schools need to do more to bridge the education attainment divide between poorer children and their better-off classmates.”

Helen Robinson