The UK’s Equality Trust lists six billionaires topping the wealth league with a combined fortune of £39.4bn. This is roughly equal to the assets of the poorest 13 million Britons. Gopichand and Srichand Hinduja top the table with a £12.8bn fortune. The Equality Trust estimates that 14 million people in the UK “live in poverty.” Four million of these are said to be more than 50 % below the poverty line, and 1.5 million are destitute. In 2018, the richest fifth had an income more than 12 times the amount earned by the poorest fifth. Measures using The Scale of Economic Inequality unspool a fairy-tale of Foodbanks and Ferraris.
Dr. Wyporska, of the Equality Trust, charges that the children of the rich get the best education, the best jobs and a leg up on the housing ladder. The poor are powerless to promise their children anything. This insufferable inequality was a key battleground throughout the 2019 election, and has been, since Blair in 2001. Blair’s mantra was, “Education, Education, Education.” Like a wire-bender fashioning Saga Boy to tower over its puppeteer, Blair fashioned a frame. Eighteen years later we find that school league tables only take into account pupils who complete year 11, the year when GCSEs are taken. Difficult and low-achieving scholars are “off-rolled” to avoid any dampening of the school’s performance.
By discounting “off-rolling” figures a rosy picture is painted of Whitehall’s efforts to close the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their upper crust peers. As many as 9,000 disadvantaged 16-year-olds are not taking exams or recorded in school league tables because they cannot be located on school records. The FFT Education Datalab found an increasing number of pupils, both underprivileged and non-disadvantaged, leaving conventional schools last year.
In total, 24,600 disappeared from rolls compared with 22,000 the year before, amid anxiety around “off-rolling”. About 47% of disadvantaged pupils who completed schooling at a mainstream secondary school achieved a grade 4 or above in GCSE English and maths in 2018, compared with more than 72% of non-disadvantaged pupils. But once off-rolling figures are included, the failure rate for disadvantaged pupils increased by more than double that of rich pupils, and widened the gap in attainment between the two by 1.3 percentage points.
Blair’s intentions to overhaul education rested between the state’s obsession to provide harder GCSCs with a new grading system that stretches and differentiates brilliance and a need to address how better to serve those who face the greatest level of challenge. Reforms to GCSEs commenced four years ago. They included a departure from modules to final exams and a change in the grading system. Course work was dropped from most subjects and there was a heavy crackdown on resits and qualifications being taken in bite-size chunks. Instead there was a return to two years of solid study followed by the exam. The overarching aims were increasing rigour and differentiation at the top of the grade range.
Examining the GCSE data before and after the reforms to determine the impact on disadvantaged learners and the attainment gap shows that the number of poor pupils achieving the highest GCSE grades has halved. There is a slight increase in disadvantaged pupils and wealthier classmates achieving at least one pass, that is a grade 4, when comparing the old and new systems. Accounting for a multiplicity of school factors and pupil characteristics, test scores for underprivileged pupils fell slightly compared to non-disadvantaged pupils, by just over a quarter of a grade across 9 subjects (1.5% of a standard deviation per subject).
Among the candidates achieving a top score of 9 the difference was particularly severe. Under the previous system, 2% of disadvantaged pupils achieved the top grade of A*, whereas just 1% now achieve a 9. The drop is less for non-disadvantaged pupils, falling from 8% achieving A* to 5% achieving a 9. Overall pupils are entering slightly fewer GCSEs since the reforms, but the gap in entries between disadvantaged students and others has decreased. There has been a slight increase in those achieving grades 9-4 (equivalent to the old A*-C), for both disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils. Though there is little perceptible difference at the top end, that is among those achieving grades 9-7 (A*-A).
A grade 5 is now seen as a ‘strong pass’. Better-off candidates were 1.42 times more likely than disadvantaged pupils to achieve a C or above, but are now 1.63 times more likely to achieve a 5 or above. This suggest that greater differentiation at the top end of the ability scale may have negative social mobility impacts.
Achieving a ‘standard pass’ in English and Mathematics is crucial to progression after age 16. There has been a drop of 1 percentage point in the proportion of disadvantaged pupils failing to meet that standard in both English (41.1% in 2016, 40.1% in 2018) and maths (49.8% in 2016, 48.8% in 2018). Triple sciences showed the most appreciable increase in the attainment gap. In sum, substantial increases in the disadvantage attainment gap have not materialised. This keeps intact the gap between those toping the League of Wealth and the unrecorded on school League Tables.