Almost “no progress” has been made to close the attainment gap between England’s poorest pupils and their richer peers in the past three years, a report has claimed.
The charity Teach First said 44.9% of disadvantaged students received passes at levels four to nine in their GCSE English and maths exams last year, compared with 72% of pupils from richer backgrounds.
GCSEs are now graded from one to nine, with four being the equivalent of a C under the old system, and nine being an A*.
The charity’s analysis found the figure had only marginally improved overall for poorer pupils in England since 2017, when it stood at 44.5%, while in some parts of the country the attainment gap had increased.
Russell Hobby, Teach First’s chief executive, said the recent turmoil around exam results “threw a sharp light” on the “inequality” of the education system.
He said: “However, inequality in exam results is hardly unique to this year.
“This report has laid bare that due to unequal access to a brilliant education, pupils from wealthier homes are awarded better results than their peers year after year.”
The charity said that while 59% of disadvantaged pupils in Inner London achieved a pass grade in English and maths last year, the figure dropped to less than half in eight out of 10 other regions.
It said there was also evidence that the attainment gap had widened in the past few years in the North West, Outer London, the South East, the South West, and Yorkshire and the Humber.
In the South West, the area with the lowest pass rate for disadvantaged pupils in the country, 40% passed English and maths in 2019, down from 41% in 2017.
The rate for non-disadvantaged pupils increased from 70% to 72%.
Inner and Outer London (54%) had the highest pass rates for disadvantaged pupils in England last year.
Teach First said long-term funding for schools with the poorest pupils was needed to tackle the issue, along with financial incentives for earlier career teachers at those institutions.
David Thomas, principal of Jane Austen College in Norwich and a Teach First ambassador, said: “Now thanks to Covid-19, pupils have lost 10% of their time in secondary school – and we know that many of them weren’t getting a good education through that period. So we should be shouting from the rooftops about this and taking urgent action.”
A Department for Education spokesman said: “The gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers has narrowed considerably in both primary and secondary schools since 2011. During that time this government has delivered a range of reforms to ensure every child, regardless of their background, receives a high-quality education.
“We are investing £2.4 billion this year alone through the Pupil Premium to help the most disadvantaged children and teachers and school leaders are helping to drive up standards right across the country – with 86% of schools judged good or outstanding compared to 68% in 2010.”
He added: “We have been clear that getting all children back in the classroom full-time in September is a national priority, and taken steps to directly tackle the impact of lost teaching time over the coming year, such as the £1 billion Covid catch up package which includes a £350 million National Tutoring Programme to provide additional, targeted support for those children and young people who need the most help.”
Teach First provides support to teachers and schools in disadvantaged communities.