New analysis looks at educational disadvantage in England

New EPI analysis investigates the performance of disadvantaged pupils in England and the gap between those pupils and their peers

New analysis by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) and Professors John Jerrim and Toby Greany at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) examines the performance of disadvantaged pupils in England, how they compare with their peers and compares both of these measures to other developed countries.
The report converts the latest results from the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) into GCSE grades, allowing for a direct comparison of pupil performance with England. It also defines ‘disadvantaged pupils’ in England as those eligible for free school meals and compared those children with disadvantaged pupils in other countries using PISA’s Economic, Social and Cultural Status (ESCS) index.
Using these estimations, the report observes that England has an FSM rate of 10.5%, the eigth lowest of all countries included in the study – Iceland has the lowest estimated proportion of FSM pupils, at 8.1%.
Read the full report here.

Key findings

Maths: performance of disadvantaged pupils in England compared to other countries:

  • The performance of disadvantaged pupils in England ranks in the lower half of developed countries – standing at 25 out of 44 nations. Under the new GCSE grades, the average maths grade of disadvantaged pupils in England is 3.8 (lower than the current pass grade of 4).
  • England’s disadvantaged pupils lag behind several other Western nations including Estonia, Canada, the Netherlands and Ireland – achieving around a third of a grade lower (on average). Disadvantaged pupils in Asian nations of Macao, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan are even further ahead – with England performing around half a grade lower in maths.
  • England is marked by a long tail of underperformance amongst its disadvantaged pupils. Just one in 10 disadvantaged pupils in England achieve a high score in GCSE maths of grade 7 to 9 (A-A* under the old grading system). Nearly twice as many disadvantaged pupils in Singapore achieve this grade.
  • Similarly, as many as four in 10 disadvantaged pupils in England fail to reach the new GCSE “standard” pass mark of a grade 4 in maths.

The disadvantage gap in England vs. other countries:

  • The attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers in England is equivalent to one whole GCSE grade. On this measure of educational disadvantage, England ranks in the bottom half of developed nations, standing 27th out of 44 nations.
  • The disadvantage gap in England is significantly larger than in high performing countries including Estonia (0.71 of a GCSE grade), Hong Kong (0.85) and Norway (0.84). However, in other countries, while overall pupil performance may be far higher than in England, disadvantage gaps are more severe. Countries such as China and Singapore perform poorly on levels of educational disadvantage, with gaps of 1.2 of a GCSE grade.

Reading: performance of disadvantaged pupils in England vs other countries:

  • England’s performance in reading is better than in maths. Disadvantaged pupils in England scored an average grade of 4.0 (a GCSE pass grade) and rank in the top half of developed nations – standing 17th out of the 44 nations.
  • Other leading Western nations such as Canada, Finland, Estonia, Norway and Ireland, all rank higher than England in the performance of disadvantaged pupils, scoring between 4.2 and 4.3 in reading.

The disadvantage gap in England vs other countries:

  • In reading, the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers in England is around three-quarters of a GCSE grade (0.76) – around the average of all other countries in the report.
  • However, all UK home nations have smaller disadvantage gaps than England. Wales scores considerably better than England on the disadvantage gap in reading (0.64) – ranking an impressive second place – only behind Macao – out of 44 OECD developed nationsHowever, this could be because overall performance (amongst all pupils in the study) is, on average, poorer than in England. Northern Ireland and Scotland, with gaps of around two-thirds of a GCSE grade (0.66 and 0.68 respectively), also fare better than England on this measure.
  • In reading there is also no link between the performance of disadvantaged pupils, and the disadvantage gap. Again, China and Singapore are high performers overall, yet perform poorly in terms of equity – with large GCSE grade gaps of 0.92 and 0.96.

Educational disadvantage: what can England learn from other countries?

  • Our research finds that high performance and greater equity in educational opportunities and outcomes are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Countries which achieve both tend to have policies which avoid selection by ability and segregation between schools. They also tend to have a significant focus on attracting, supporting and retaining high-quality teachers.

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