Disadvantage gap stops narrowing in early years

5 August 2019

The progress in closing the disadvantage gap in the early years has come to a standstill, according to a new report by the Education Policy Institute (EPI).

The report examines the progress made in closing the gap in educational attainment between disadvantaged pupils and their peers, known as “the disadvantage gap” which is a leading indicator of social mobility. The research is based on the latest Department for Education (DfE) data and also considers how the disadvantage gap has changed since 2011 and how it varies across the country.

The report, Education in England 2019, reveals that there had been no real change in the average scores in the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile between 2017 and 2018. It also warns that the attainment gap between children eligible for pupil premium funding and their peers widened from 4.4 months to 4.5 months of progress between 2017 and 2018.

In primary schools the disadvantage gap has continued to narrow but it has now stopped closing in the early years and by the end of secondary school at Key Stage 4.

The EPI also noted regional differences in the disadvantage gap across the UK. Large disadvantage gaps remain well-established in several areas in England but are particularly acute in the North.

The report finds on average, poorer pupils in England are now 18 months behind their peers by the time they finish their GCSEs and the most persistently disadvantaged pupils are almost two years (22.6 months) behind.

The EPI warns that if current trends continue, it will take more than 500 years to close the disadvantage gap and it may even start to widen in the near future.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said:

“We have warned the government for some time of the potential damage to social mobility because of the £662m funding shortfall in early years education.”

“We already know that childcare providers in deprived areas are twice as likely to close as those in affluent ones – often because poorer parents cannot afford the voluntary extras or private hours that providers are forced to charge to make up for the lack of adequate funding. Not only has underfunding plunged the early years sector into crisis, today’s report shows how it risks harming the children who most need quality, early years education to keep pace with their more advantaged peers.”

“This should be a wake-up call to the Government, and an urgent priority for the new Children and Families minister. We need urgent action to reverse the widening disadvantage gap, and this can only be done through proper funding of the government’s flagship childcare schemes.”

The full report can be found here.