‘Regional disparity of disadvantaged pupils’ – expert reaction to new EPI report

Two expert reactions to Education Policy Institute’s latest report, ‘Closing the Gap,‘ on disadvantaged pupils falling behind

Comment from Tanya Ovenden-Hope, Director of Education, The Cornwall College Group, and Visiting Research Fellow, Plymouth University:
“The new Education Policy Institute (EPI) report Persistently disadvantaged pupils falling even further behind (2017) examines the progress made in closing the gap in attainment between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. The research finds a distinction between different regions of England, with some areas such as London, the South, and the East, continuing to make progress in narrowing the disadvantage gap, while others, particularly those in rural  and coastal areas seeing gaps remaining or widening. Targeted local government interventions, such as The London Challenge, have been very successful, but more recent interventions such as ‘opportunity areas’ do not appear to match all the areas where the disadvantage gap in education is widest.

Ofsted  identified in 2013  that pupil attainment in ‘deprived coastal towns’ had not benefitted from national initiatives that had been designed to drive up standards for the most disadvantaged children. However, the way in which the government has, categorised and reported data on, coastal schools suggests these schools have similar outcomes to other schools that do not require a regional or local intervention (Ovenden-Hope and Passy, 2016). Performance data has shown differences in attainment for coastal schools e.g. SchoolDash, which analyses education data, examined the performance of coastal schools for 2015 GCSE results showed that pupils in coastal schools were on average achieving 3% lower results than inland schools, based on the benchmark five A*-C GCSEs including English and maths. The figures also show that coastal schools have a more deprived intake, with 3% more pupils eligible for free school meals – a figure similar to the achievement gap. Yet recent reports by the current government (DfE, 2016) have rejected claims that socio-economically deprived coastal regions face specific challenges in education because of their geography, economies and social contexts.

Findings from our research exploring coastal schools (Ovenden-Hope and Passy, 2015; Passy and Ovenden-Hope, 2016), and our emerging research examining educational isolation, share the concerns raised in the EPI report about regional disparity and the pupil attainment gap. Children at schools in coastal and rural regions with long term socio-economic deprivation were found to have low educational aspirations and attainment. With inter-generational low, seasonal or un-employment in these areas, it is not surprising to find low parental engagement with education; or a lack of  expectation to achieve. Or that the gap in pupil attainment for the persistently disadvantaged is static or growing in these coastal and rural schools.  The challenge of differentiating data for pupil attainment regionally is that within these areas great  wealth can sit with great poverty, which can result in an ‘averaging out’ of  pupil need. By measuring disadvantage using pupil premium, the EPI Report makes visible the issue of deprivation by region, which is helpful in understanding how to move forward in closing the attainment gap. However, more understanding of the inconsistency of disadvantage within regions/areas and a targeted local government approach based on this more detailed understanding of regional deprivation disparity would be even more helpful in finding solutions for raising the attainment of persistently disadvantaged pupils.”
Comment from Sean Demack, who is a senior researcher in the Centre for Development and Research in Education, Institute of Education, Sheffield Hallam University: 
“The report clearly highlights an entrenched attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.  This gap is shown to widen as pupils progress through the compulsory education system.  There is some evidence to suggest that this (disadvantaged v peers) gap appears to have slightly narrowed between 2007 and 2016 – but the report highlights that it would take over 50 years for the gap to completely close.

The analyses uses an innovative methodology that draws on the relative (ranked) attainment of pupils identified as disadvantaged. The gap is then converted into months progress difference.

Whilst the approach is original and the findings are clear – entrenched attainment gaps within the English education system, I think that there are a number of shortcomings worth noting.

First, the heavy focus on a small pupil subsample deemed to be disadvantaged is simplistic.  If we are to understand the relationship between pupil socioeconomic background and educational success we will need to start to acknowledge greater complexity – and begin to measure socioeconomic background.   We have little to no understanding on patterns of attainment for pupils with high capital.   This is a weakness of the data infrastructure rather than the research – can only analyse what has been measured.

Second, I am not a fan of the months progress conversion and would like a clear summary of how this was done statistically.   I am also unclear how much the distribution charts add and would like additional context (such as point estimates).”

References relating to comment from Tanya Ovenden-Hope:

DfE (2016) Schools workforce in England 2010 to 2015: trends and geographical comparisons. September 2016.  London, Department for Education. Accessed on 15/09/16 at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/550970/SFR44_2016_text.pdf
Ofsted (2013) The Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills 2012/13. London, Ofsted.
Ovenden-Hope, T. and Passy, R. (2015) ‘Changing Cultures in Coastal Academies’. Cornwall; Plymouth University, The Cornwall College Group and The Academies Enterprise Trust. First accessed 01/04/2015 https://www.cornwall.ac.uk/sites/default/files/documents/Coastal%20Academies%20Report_2015_final_2%20Tanya%20Ovenden-Hope%20and%20Rowena%20Passy.pdf
Ovenden-Hope, T. and Passy, R. (2016) ‘The Challenge of School Improvement in Coastal Regions in England’, in symposium ‘Recruitment, Retention and Region: The new three R’s challenging education in England’ Howson, J., Ovenden-Hope, T., Passy, R. and Gorard, S. British Educational Research Association Conference, Leeds University, September 2016.
Passy, R. and Ovenden-Hope, T. (2016) ‘Changing student behaviour in schools located in areas of socioeconomic deprivation: findings form the ‘coastal academies’ project’. Education Today. London: The College of Teachers. Volume 66 Issue 2 September 2016.

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