Call for action to help poor pupils

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Schools should be able to help tens of thousands of poor teenagers who are currently falling short to get good GCSE results, a new report has claimed.

There are “shocking” gaps in achievement between schools serving similar deprived communities, according to a study by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission published today.

It says that while some have “cracked the code” with high numbers of poor students gaining five good GCSEs, including English and maths, others are falling far behind.

The study also warns that some teachers may have lower expectations of pupils from disadvantaged homes.

Commission chairman, Alan Milburn said the research had revealed a “shocking gap in performance” between schools with similar intakes of poorer pupils.

“But some schools are proving that deprivation needn’t be destiny. They have cracked the code on how to improve social mobility by helping disadvantaged children to excel in education. If some schools can do it, there is no excuse for others not to,” he added.

The report presents a mixed picture for Yorkshire. It highlights the region as one of three areas of the country with the largest level of schools serving poor communities which have low levels of attainment. However it also shows that Yorkshire has only ten per cent of the schools which do the very worst with pupils from deprived backgrounds. Only the North East and London had fewer schools on this list.

And in almost one-in-four primaries in Yorkshire, 237 schools in total, pupils from poorer homes do better than the national average for all children. The report examines what can be done to improve social mobility.

Currently, nearly six in 10 disadvantaged children in England do not leave school with at least five C grades at GCSE, including English and maths, compared to one-in-three of their better off classmates. However the study highlights how around one-in-nine secondary schools across the country see their disadvantaged pupils get better GCSE results than the national average for all 16-year-olds.

“Some schools seem to have learnt the secret of how to alleviate the impact of background on life chances,” the study says.

It adds: “At a time when social mobility is stalling and child poverty is rising, there is an urgent need to share the lessons so that every school can crack that code.”

Overall, the best schools are helping three times as many poor children to gain five good GCSEs, including English and maths, as other schools with similar levels of disadvantage, the Commission’s analysis concludes.

If secondary schools went half the way towards matching the performance of the best schools with similar numbers of disadvantaged pupils, then more than 14,000 additional poor youngsters would achieve the five A* to C GCSE benchmark.

And if all secondaries closed half the gap with the best performing school that has pupils with similar levels of ability, then 60,000 more students would reach the five good GCSEs threshold each year, the study found.

Under the current system, schools in England are judged on the number of students reaching the five GCSE C grades or higher, including English and maths.

From 2016, this is changing to look at how well pupils do across eight subjects, including English and maths. This move is likely to lead to eight per cent of secondaries falling down league table rankings, the study says - with schools that have the largest proportions of disadvantaged pupils seeing the biggest falls.