Across England, significant educational inequalities map closely on to differences in local economic outcomes. Places with higher levels of deprivation are typically characterised by worse educational outcomes, higher unemployment, lower pay, and poorer health. This situation deters local business investment, holds back growth, and undermines living standards.
Improving educational outcomes is critical for breaking this cycle and delivering inclusive growth to every part of the country. However, in order to achieve this, a new approach is needed. Education policy must address a diverse range of factors determining educational success – both inside, and outside, the classroom.
This report sets out a wide-ranging policy package to transform educational attainment in deprived communities in England, informed by over 40 in-depth interviews with teachers and former pupils as well as new data analysis.
The determinants of educational success
New data analysis identifies a strong association between the broader social and economic conditions of an area and its GCSE results for deprived pupils. In particular, the analysis finds that deprived children from areas with stronger local labour markets, including closer proximity to employment opportunities, tend to achieve better results than those living in places characterised by higher rates of unemployment and inactivity.
Established evidence demonstrates that educational outcomes are shaped by the conditions in which a child is raised. These can be grouped into the following:
- Economic: The prevalence of child poverty and the quality of the local labour market are two of the most regularly cited economic factors impacting the ability of children to engage and participate in the learning process.
- Social: Relationships with parents, carers, teachers, peers, and members of the community can shape children as they develop, with the absence of strong support networks linked to a wide range of potential problems in the classroom.
- Physical: Facilities, transport links and community spaces are essential for engagement, expanding educational opportunities, access to parental support services and wider extra-curricular activities.
These findings informed a series of semi-structured interviews and focus groups conducted with recent school leavers (aged 18–24) and teachers in areas of high deprivation in the North West of England. Through these interviews, recurring themes emerged about how local environments have impacted the educational opportunities of children and what should be done in response. These include:
- Material deprivation: Personal and local area poverty is a core issue. Children turning up to class hungry or tired, going without the equipment necessary to fully participate in lessons and not fully participating in wider activities created clear divisions which often required specific interventions from educational institutions and individual teachers.“You see children that just aren’t ready to focus of the day, so you have to put that in your plan, change what you’re doing first thing in the morning.”Educator, F, Liverpool
- Family and community networks: Parental support is a key influence over education and child development. In many cases, lack of parental support is a consequence of parents and carers facing hardships themselves, such as struggles with poverty or poor-quality jobs. Similarly, strong relationships with teachers is seen as beneficial. Weak social relationships were frequently commented on by respondents as a source of frustration, due in part to the absence of guidance they received both at home and in school
- Mental health: Both educators and recent school leavers are acutely aware of the mental health crisis emerging for pupils. Lack of appropriate services, the transition to secondary education and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic have all played a prominent role in exacerbating this issue.
- Preparation for adult life: Clear pathways for pupils are critical. Many reported that support was mostly reserved for those planning to go to university. Providing guidance suitable for every student and helping make young people more aware of opportunities in the labour market was a recurring demand.
This report offers a broad and deliberately large policy package, requiring an additional investment of £15bn per annum, designed to address the multifaceted determinants of educational success. But the prize is big – transforming communities, reducing inequalities, and fostering ambitions in a way that would dramatically improve educational outcomes in areas of higher deprivation.
Reduce social disadvantage
- Enhance the pupil premium through:–Increasing the amount received by primary school pupils to £1,781, restoring the real value of the premium to its 2015 levels.–Equalising the payment for secondary school pupils with the primary school entitlement.–Expanding pupil premium payments to pupils in further education at the same rate.
- Reform the benefit system to eliminate the two-child limit, equalising payments for every child and reversing the impact of the benefit freeze, with the intention of significantly reducing child poverty
.• Introduce a labour market package to improve the working conditions of parents and carers and improve post-school opportunities. These policies should include:–Mandate employers to offer guaranteed contracts to zero-hours workers who have performed regular hours for three months.–Guarantee the right to request flexibility as a day one right, and invest in training to support organisations improve their flexible work offer.–Conduct a review of careers advice in areas with higher levels of deprivation to explore the adequacy of current levels of provision and funding, and the extent to which school aged children are being made aware of opportunities regarding both further study and future employment.
Improve social relations
- Invest in school mental health services to establish a legal ratio of school counsellors to school and college pupils of 250 to 1, with oversight from a new taskforce to be created and embedded within the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities to guarantee every child access to mental health support and prevent potential conditions worsening.
- Establish a £600m funding pot for the most deprived local authorities in England to work with schools and colleges to trial community hubs which harness existing infrastructure to deliver key services for local children and families.
- Establish 3,500 new family hubs by 2030 to support parents and carers of young children and match the scale of service provided by Sure Start centres at their peak.
Expand educational access
- Subsidise transport for school and college pupils, through the creation of a new universal bus pass, with the aim of ensuring every child can go to the educational institution they want within the community.