Labour hits out at Tory education policies as GCSE gap between rich and poor pupils widens
Labour has attacked ministers' handling of the schools system as new research revealed that poorer pupils are no longer closing the gap between their GCSE grades and those of their better-off peers.
Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner seized on the latest report by think tank the Education Policy Institute (EPI) which reveals that progress in narrowing the so-called attainment gap has stalled for the first time since 2011.
The EPI's research, based on Department for Education data, finds that disadvantaged pupils are now more than 18.1 months behind their non-disadvantaged peers by the time they leave secondary school.
Although the gap has narrowed over the past decade, it has now begun to widen again and was 0.2 months bigger this time around than in the EPI's last annual report.
It has prompted the think tank to warn that progress "has come to a standstill".
Ms Rayner said the report marked the "the latest evidence that inequality continues to rise under the Tories, with the most disadvantaged students losing out".
The Labour education spokesperson said: "Successive Tory governments have cut school budgets for the first time in a generation and slashed funding from Sure Start to further education, and now we are seeing the consequences.
“Sadly there is no reason to expect that will change with the new Prime Minister and Education Secretary, who are intent on handing out yet more massive tax giveaways to the super-rich rather than investing in all our children."
But the Government said the gap had "narrowed considerably" in recent years.
School standards Minister Nick Gibb said: "We are investing £2.4 billion this year alone through the Pupil Premium to help the most disadvantaged children.
"Teachers and school leaders are helping to drive up standards right across the country, with 85% of children now in good or outstanding schools compared to just 66% in 2010, but there is more to do to continue to attract and retain talented individuals in our classrooms."
The EPI's study also found that the attainment gap at GCSE level is growing in parts of the North of England, despite signs of progress in London and the South East.
Poorer pupils are just 3.9 months behind their peers in Westminster and just 5.3 months behind them in Tower Hamlets.
But in Rotherham and Blackpool, disadvantaged kids trail their secondary school classmates by more than two years by the time they finish their GCSEs.
Former schools minister David Laws, who chairs the EPI, said: "Our research shows that for the first time in several years, the gap between poorer pupils and their peers at GCSE has stopped closing. Trends suggest that this disadvantage gap may now be taking a new direction, where it begins to widen.
"In addition, we find that both black Caribbean children and persistently disadvantaged children – those eligible for free school meals for most of their school lives – are now further behind their peers than they were in 2011. There has also been no progress in closing the gap this year for children with special educational needs and disabilities.
“Rising average pupil attainment has not resulted in more equal outcomes for all, and we must be sceptical of rhetoric about social injustices that is not matched by a credible plan and resources."
Despite the report's findings at GCSE level, the EPI's study reveals that the attainment gap is continuing to close at primary school level.
Disadvantaged pupils are now 9.2 months behind their peers by the time they leave school, the the institute found - a narrowing of 0.3 months since 2017.