Educational inequality in the UK is a disparity that exists in both the private and state education systems. The private sector attracts wealthier families who can afford to send their children to schools that pay for more qualified teachers, provided with textbooks and library access. If the students do not understand a topic, the family can purchase resources to aid their schoolwork. (Note: this is not the case with all private schools; some offer bursaries and scholarships for underprivileged students, although these make up a minority of the pupil cohort.)
The story in the non-private sector is very different. In the state-funded schools, there is an imbalance in educational attainment between pupils from lower economic backgrounds, who are eligible for free school meals (FSM) and pupil premium, and those from wealthier backgrounds. Below are some shocking statistics about the extent of educational inequality in the UK. The mission of Books2All is to provide textbooks, reading books and educational resources to disadvantaged children to assist in their education and understanding. Effectively: Books2All!
These statistics reveal the extent of the educational inequality in the UK
A child from a disadvantaged background is 18 months behind when they take their GCSEs.1 This disparity, although shown at exam time, actually starts at a young age. Disadvantaged students often struggle to catch up and close the gap with their peers, meaning they may be set back for life.
A disadvantaged child is three times more likely to be excluded from school.1 Pupils can be excluded due to misbehaviour either in or out of school. A disproportionately high number of students from low economic households are excluded. These pupils are often out of education for an extended period of time, or permanently, resulting in few opportunities to receive educational support or sit examinations.
1 in 8 schools across England, Wales and Northern Ireland do not have a library.2 Schools with a large number of pupils eligible for FSM, where libraries would be most beneficial, are twice as likely to be without a library.
The UK is the world’s fifth economy yet ranks 23rd in educational inequality in primary schools.3 And the UK ranks 16th in inequality in secondary schools. This fact puts the UK behind less affluent countries, including Romania and Poland.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, 15% of teachers from deprived schools reported that more than a third of pupils would not have electronic access to school work compared to 2% at more affluent state schools.4 It is a major concern that the pandemic may have increased the educational gap, as disadvantaged pupils are less likely to access resources that promote learning and enable contact with teachers.
Only 6% of young people are educated privately in the UK but they make up 55% of students at Russell Group universities.5 Research has found that students attending Russell Group universities will earn 40% more five years post-graduation than those from other universities. Therefore, disadvantaged students, who are less likely to attend Russell Group universities, have fewer opportunities to escape poverty.
33% of pupils who receive FSM achieve five or more A* to C at GCSEs compared with 61% of those not receiving FSM.6 17.3% of students in the UK are eligible for FSM based upon the economic income of their households.
1 Teach First: https://www.teachfirst.org.uk/inequality-education
2The Independent: https://www.independent.co.uk
3 UNICEF: https://www.unicef.org.uk/publications/an-unfair-start-education-report-card-15/
4 Sutton Trust: https://www.suttontrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/COVID-19-Impact-Brief-School-Shutdown.pdf
5 University of Manchester: https://sites.manchester.ac.uk/global-social-challenges/2019/05/23/inequality-in-the-uk-higher-education-system/
6 The Social Market Foundation: https://www.smf.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Education-Commission-final-web-report.pdf
7BBC News: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-41693230
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Inset photo courtesy of Tony Tran on Unsplash