THE attainment gap between West Berkshire’s disadvantaged pupils and their wealthier peers is one of the largest in the country, a new report has revealed.
Students who qualify for free school meals on average end up more than two years behind pupils from more affluent families by the end of secondary school.
The report also reveals that as students in West Berkshire progress from an Early Years setting to their GCSEs, the attainment gap widens by 22 months – one of the largest increases in the country.
Responding to the report, the head of education services at West Berkshire Council, Ian Pearson, said the council was committed to reducing the gap, adding: “We are working with schools to put in place approaches that should have a positive impact.”
The report from the Education Policy Institute looked at how well the school system is serving disadvantaged young people by measuring the gap between pupils who qualify for free school meals (Pupil Premium pupils) and the national average scores for non-disadvantaged pupils.
According to the report, in West Berkshire those pupils are 3.1 months behind their classmates as they leave their early years setting.
This gap widens to 8.5 months by the end of primary school and then jumps to 25 months by the time they’ve sat their GCSEs.
Only neighbouring Reading has a larger gap within Berkshire, with disadvantaged pupils 25.1 months behind their peers.
Nationally, the most disadvantaged students face the greatest struggle in the Isle of Wight, where they are two-and-a-half years behind their peers by the end of secondary education.
There are 16 areas where disadvantaged pupils are more than two years behind.
Speaking about pupils in West Berkshire, Mr Pearson, said: “The Education Policy Institute report sets out the comparative position with regard to 2016 exam/test results (which are now a year out of date) so it will be interesting to see the 2017 results.
“Interestingly, Ofsted’s seminal report on the subject, Unseen Children, suggests that disadvantaged secondary pupils do best in schools where they are either a very large or very small proportion of the cohort.
“Unfortunately, the majority of West Berkshire schools do not fall in this category.
“Nationally, the Pupil Premium (disadvantaged pupils) cohort is circa 68 per cent but in West Berkshire this is 82 per cent which also impacts on the gap.
“Closing the gap is a council commitment and we are not at all complacent.
“Early Years outcomes demonstrate how schools and settings have stepped up to the plate to diminish the difference. This is what we aim to achieve at KS4.
“Local Ofsted school inspection reports almost always comment positively about the use of Pupil Premium funding and we have a very active PP network, where schools can share approaches and resources.
“This includes the greater involvement of parents around how they can best support their children’s learning.
“Our schools remain keenly focused on finding ways to ensure disadvantaged pupils make good progress and attain well.”
The report does show the secondary school attainment gap is narrowing in West Berkshire, having reduced by 0.9 months since 2012.
Nationally, the attainment gap at the end of secondary school has closed by 0.7months.