Reducing educational inequality will ultimately depend on reducing social and economic inequality, according to this report

The Cambridge Primary Review, headed by Professor Robin Alexander, will be remembered by many. Not least because the government ignored most of its recommendations.  What is perhaps less well known is that the Cambridge Primary Review Trust (CPRT), was established in 2012, with support from Pearson Education, and builds on the work of that Review, through on-going research. The Review itself is worth revisiting as it’s a significant resource.

This research, somewhat inevitably called ‘Mind the Gap’, from Professor Kate Pickett and Dr Laura  Vanderbloemen focuses on the issue of equity , tackling  the continuing challenge  of  social  and  educational  disadvantage. Its main conclusions are as follows:

Inequality and educational outcomes

  • The most important influence on educational attainment, on how well a child develops in the early years, performs in school, in later education and in adulthood, is family background.
  • Children do better if their parents have higher incomes and higher levels of education and they do better if they come from homes where they have a place to study, where there are reference books and newspapers, and where education is valued.
  • Average levels of educational attainment and children’s engagement in education are better in more equal societies.
  • Inequalities in educational attainment and outcomes have a social gradient. It is not just poor children who do less well than everybody else: across the social spectrum children do less well than those with household social position just above their own families.
  • Inequalities in educational outcomes are more profound in more unequal countries, such that even the children with the highest social position in high inequality societies do less well than their counterparts in more equal societies.

Inequality and childhood

  • Parental experience of adversity is passed on to children through pathways that include poverty of time and resources, domestic conflict and violence, parental mental illness and substance use.
  • Both quantitative and qualitative evidence show how low relative income and income inequality increase the strain on family life and relationships.
  • When children believe themselves to be judged negatively by others, their stress levels are heightened, their cognitive performance is adversely affected, and they feel bad about themselves. In more unequal societies, the quality of social relationships between children suffers – they are less likely to find their peers kind and helpful and more likely to bully or be bullied.
  • Whether consciously or not, teachers are affected by class and social status prejudice and may discriminate against children with low status. Teacher training in the UK does not systematically include explicit consideration of the meaning of social class and inequality within education.

Closing the gap: what works?

  • Spending on education, including targeted spending such as the Pupil Premium, can certainly make a difference, and the evidence shows that it is most likely to do so in schools which are already successful. Yet targeted spending is not sufficient on its own to close the attainment gap and reduce educational inequalities.
  • With regard to other policies of the current government, the Swedish experience suggests that free schools lead to deteriorating educational achievement and DfE’s claim that academies improve attainment among disadvantaged pupils has been challenged on evidential grounds.
  • Yet school-based interventions can help and there are good summaries of evidence available to teachers and policy makers from organisations such as the Educational Endowment Foundation (EEF), which promotes and evaluates practical strategies for narrowing the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and others.
  • One promising area, the focus of several EEF projects including one led by the Cambridge Primary Review Trust itself, is the substance and quality of classroom talk. Another is a ‘big education’ which raises its sights beyond the traditional fixation on the 3Rs and education for work, essential though these are, and attends no less to education for human fulfilment, interdependence and the good society, also prominent in CPRT’s vision.
  • Many publicly funded and independent statutory and third sector organizations produce evidence and interventions to tackle education with significant reach and impact.
  • However, reducing educational inequality will ultimately depend on reducing social and economic inequality

MIND THE GAP- Tackling Social and Educational Inequality- Kate Pickett and Laura Vanderbloemen ;A report for the Cambridge Primary Review Trust-September 2015



The report references Melissa Benn and Fiona Millar, who are well known opponents of academisation and  any form of selection .They champion a fully comprehensive system.  Also  referenced is the Compass group which has, in its own words, a ‘progressive agenda’.



  1. The omitted caveat is that Pearson, the largest education publisher in the world, are business partners of OECD Pisa. Flawed Pisa data, including their infamous ‘plausible values’ are cited endlessly to drive an equality of outcome or results approach to education systems. The OECD are no fans of parental choice or selective systems, no wonder Melissa Benn and Ms Fiona Millar were included.

  2. More unashamedly, politically motivated “research” is the last thing parents seeking a decent education for their children need.

  3. I do get fed up with the Cambridge Primary Review people being presented as some kind of neutral experts that governments are unwise to ignore. They are a campaign group, with quite a clear agenda of promoting one type of education. That’s not shameful or sinister, but it should be reported honestly, not as politicians ignoring evidence or expertise.

    • Yes, I think this piece is as much subjective opinion as objective fact… which is why I put a Note at the bottom about Benn/Millar and Compass etc…

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