Poor school pupils face a 'cocktail of disadvantage', says Nick Clegg

Former deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said poorer pupils face a "cocktail of disadvantage" in English and Welsh classrooms.

The Liberal Democrat MP for Sheffield Hallam is the chair of a cross-party commission looking at inequality in education for the independent think tank Social Market Foundation (SMF).

On Thursday the research findings from the SMF commission, analysed by Education Datalab, were published in a report. It found that poorer pupils in England and Wales are more likely to make less progress when they are affected by four factors.

These include having a teacher who does not have a formal qualification, a less experienced teacher, a teacher without a degree in the relevant subject and when teacher turnover is high.

nick clegg
Clegg is the chair of a cross-party commission looking at inequality in education (Steve Parsons/PA)

Launching the research findings Clegg said: "Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds do less well on average at school than those from more privileged backgrounds. This inequality in outcomes is substantial and persistent.

"This new research suggests that poor pupils are facing a cocktail of disadvantage - they're more likely to have unqualified teachers, non-specialist teachers, less experienced teachers, and to have a high turnover of teachers."

Rebecca Allen, director of Education Datalab, and a commission member, said teacher recruitment and retention has "become much more difficult". She added: "Given that more disadvantaged schools were already doing worse than more advantaged schools in recruiting to long-standing shortage subjects such as physics and maths, it seems most likely that more widespread shortages will disproportionately affect them."

children arrive at school
Clegg said the research suggests that poor pupils are more likely to have unqualified teachers (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The report proposes a number of policy options that could tackle the issue of inequality. These include finding new ways to encourage experienced teachers to teach in high deprivation schools, possibly using "considerable pay incentives" to achieve this. And improving support for teachers in schools with proportions of low income pupils - meaning they would be less likely to leave, and over time increasing levels of experienced staff.

Clegg added: "Many new teachers, to their credit, choose to teach in schools in poorer areas. Improving their pay and the support they receive could mean they are more likely to stay in those schools as they become more experienced and effective."

children put their hands up in the classroom
Clegg acknowledged that many new teachers, to their credit, choose to teach in schools in poor areas (Dave Thompson/PA)

In response to the report a Department for Education spokesman said: "High quality teaching is the most important element of a world class education system that closes the door on disadvantage. Thanks to our reforms the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their classmates has narrowed since 2011 but we refuse to be complacent.

"That's why, as a key part of our plan for educational excellence everywhere, we're investing £1.3bn over the course of the parliament to attract new teachers into the profession - with a particular focus on STEM subjects to raise educational standards for young people."

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