UK: student attainment gap must be narrowed to achieve quality education for all

published 8 August 2017 updated 7 August 2017

Education unions have reacted to the latest report into the progress made by the UK Government to narrow the student attainment gap, demanding that public authorities stop austerity measures and increase investment in the education system.

N ASUWT: children cannot afford to wait three generations to close the student attainment gap

“The findings of this report are sadly unsurprising,” said National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) General Secretary Chris Keates, commenting on the Education Policy Institute (EPI) report, Closing the Gap? Trends in Educational Attainment and Disadvantage, into the progress made by the Government to narrow the student attainment gap. The report was released on 3 August.

She explained that factors which are common among students who are falling behind their peers include child poverty, insecure housing, poor physical and mental health among families and job insecurity, which have all seen an increase as a result of the Government’s austerity programme and reforms to welfare.

Noting that “schools are striving to do the best for every child they teach, but schools alone cannot tackle these social issues and plug the gap made by cuts to wider services and basic support on which many families rely and which help to provide children with the stability they need in order to focus on their learning and achieve at school,” she deplored that the task of schools in closing the attainment gap is made even harder when teacher supply is in crisis “as a result of attacks on teachers’ pay, working conditions and professionalism”.

She added that children cannot afford to wait the three generations this report predicts it will take, on current trends, to close the student attainment gap, and urged the Government to take “effective action” on education, health, housing and the economy to tackle the root causes of the disadvantage and poverty, which are “key inhibitors to educational progression”.

NUT: proper investment and correct interventions needed from the Government

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) Assistant General Secretary Avis Gilmore also insisted that this report gives “a sombre warning to Government that unless investment and the correct interventions are in place the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers will continue,” and that “as a society we cannot wait 50 years before all children and young people perform to the best of their abilities”.

Local authorities and schools are being starved of cash resulting in the closure of or cut-backs to many essential support services for those students most in need, she said, criticising the fact that the Government has focused its attention on academies and free schools as a means of raising children’s attainment, while “clearly this has not been and never would be the panacea for equity in education”.

Holding the Government responsible for ensuring that families have jobs, homes and enough to eat, i.e. the prerequisites for children’s learning, Gilmore insisted that it must also ensure schools are properly funded and resourced, and have sufficient numbers of qualified teachers.

She went on to express her confidence in the fact that trusting schools to collaborate not compete against each other and sharing of best practice across all schools works, and called for an end to be put to “the shameful funding crisis in both schools and local authorities that is seriously hindering the progress of our children and young people”.