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Action is needed now to overcome challenges with measuring the disadvantage attainment gap

National Foundation for Educational Research

2 min read Partner content

Transitional arrangements brought in to ease the roll out of the Universal Credit system will make it harder to ascertain if the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers is narrowing.

These transitional arrangements are affecting the composition of the disadvantaged group and will therefore make it increasingly difficult to understand how the disadvantage attainment gap is changing from 2024 onwards.

Furthermore, the arrangements, originally introduced in 2018, have recently been extended by two years to March 2025. This means their impact on measuring the gap will be felt for even longer.

Following a National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) report in 2022, which investigated the changing landscape of pupil disadvantage, NFER hosted a roundtable of experts to discuss the implications of the arrangements and possible policy solutions. NFER has produced a new report to highlight key insights from the roundtable discussion.

The report highlights that action is needed now to ensure we can hold the government to account for progress in reducing the gap and improving outcomes for pupils from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Based on the roundtable discussion and the research, NFER recommends:

The government should explore the feasibility of establishing a household income-based measure of disadvantage for the future.

The government should explore the feasibility of introducing a ‘continuity measure’ of disadvantage from 2024 onwards. This would be based on the underlying eligibility criteria for Free School Meals (FSM) and remove the effect of the transitional arrangements.

The government should consider replacing the current rank-based disadvantaged pupils’ attainment gap measure with a simpler metric based on average point scores.

NFER Research Director, Jenna Julius, said: “Schools are facing greater pressures due to the cost-of-living crisis, and we must ensure that there are well-targeted and effective strategies to help close the longstanding disadvantage attainment gap.

“An unintended consequence of the government’s roll-out of Universal Credit means it will become increasingly difficult to understand how the performance of disadvantaged pupils is evolving over the next decade.   

“Action is needed to ensure the government can be held to account for progress in reducing the large and long-standing attainment gap and improving the educational outcomes for disadvantaged pupils.”




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