GCSE attainment gap 'will take 100 years to close'

The attainment gap between privileged and disadvantaged GSCE students will take over 100 years to close, while poor access to technology for pupils from deprived areas is thwarting UK businesses, experts say.

The Education Policy Institute recently published its annual report on the state of education in England, and found that the disadvantage gap at the end of secondary school has shown a significant slowdown in the rate of gap closure over the last few years – threatening the ambition of significantly greater social mobility.

The study found that for the most persistently disadvantaged pupils, there has been no closure at all in the English and maths disadvantaged gap since 2011.

Researchers said, “In these subjects, we find that the rate at which the disadvantage gap is closing has slowed considerably: standing at 18.0 months in 2017, compared to 18.1 months in 2016.

“Strikingly, this also means that if current slow rates of progress in gap narrowing are maintained, the gap in English and maths would take well over 100 years to close – with similar outcomes between disadvantaged pupils and their more affluent peers not realised until the year 2155.” GCSE attainment gap

In other subjects, the disadvantage gap across all GCSE subjects closed faster than in previous years, standing at 18.4 months in 2017 compared to 19.3 months in 2016. The EPI pointed to the fact that more disadvantaged students are now studying more “academic” subjects, which historically have smaller disadvantage gaps.

And although the number of entries in A-level computing jumped by 26% from last year to 9,685, while applications for maths A-level rose by 3%, there were still calls from technology firms to provide equal access to resources to pupils from all backgrounds to boost STEM skills.

Helen Lamprell, General Counsel & External Affairs Director at Vodafone UK, said, “As a UK technology business, we see first-hand how the skills gap impacts businesses. Finding employees with the right technology skills in today’s increasingly digital world can be a challenge.

“A key way to address this skills gap is by providing equal access to technology in schools. We think the private sector should support the Government and educational institutions in ensuring that everyone – no matter their circumstances – is able to develop the digital skills they need to succeed.

“In the UK, The Vodafone Foundation has worked with the Diana Award charity to develop the Be Strong Online modules which help teenagers learn essential skills for the online world and how to be a good digital citizen. 

“We are also working to close the digital skills gap on a global level. We work on programmes to deliver access to education via mobile networks and devices across Africa, including in refugee camps, in areas where children would otherwise have limited access to schooling let alone technology. Such programmes are examples of how technology can be used to democratise education at a relatively low cost.”