Closing the gap between disadvantaged and advantaged pupils – how far has the Government implemented OECD’s 2011 recommendations? Part 1

Janet Downs's picture
The difference in educational performance between disadvantaged and advantaged pupils in the UK is wide. In 2011, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) made recommendations (in bold) about how England might close the gap. According to the OECD, how has the Government responded? And how far does this response mesh with reality (author’s words in brackets)?

Focus pre-schooling resources more strongly on disadvantaged pupils.

2 year olds will be entitled to 15 hours of free early education (BUT schools minister Elizabeth Truss wants staff to look after more children).

Government has refocused Sure Start centres on improved outcomes for young children with particular focus on disadvantaged children (BUT Sure Start centres have been closed and money has been diverted from early years to pay for statutory entitlement for 2 year-olds and the Government’s adoption strategy).

Lessen the extensive use of grades to measure performance. Further develop value-added indicators.

The Government announced an improved approach to national science sampling tests (BUT it has increased the use of tests: a phonics screening test (although this is theoretically not a performance measure) and a spelling, punctuation and grammar test for 10 year-olds.  Schools minister David Laws talks of "good" Level 4 passes.  The Government’s proposed accountability measures increase reliance on GCSE scores.  And there is still a focus on high stakes tests at 16 when most of the developed world has graduation at 18*).

Value-added measures showing progress between key stages are included in Performance Tables (BUT the Government abolished Contextual Value Added which OECD had said was a step in the right direction. The Ofsted Dashboard uses the wrong data and the expected progress measure is flawed).

Give stakeholders greater say in school leaving qualifications.

The Government wrote to Ofqal re A level reform (BUT universities were reluctant to be involved, the Government has ignored CBI (and others) who want exam focus to move to age 18 and Ofqual has reservations about the timetable for GCSE reforms.)

Review effects of school reforms eg free schools on equity and fair access.

Free schools introduce greater choice and provision in response to local demand (BUT demand is not the same as need, some free schools eg Beccles Free School have been established in areas with surplus capacity). 50% of first-wave free schools were located in the 30% most deprived communities and 45% of second-wave free schools in the 25% most deprived. (These figures are disputed.)

The revised Admissions Code (2012) has been introduced with the aim of making admissions fairer and clearer. (BUT the Academies Commission found that many academies were manipulating their admissions. The Admissions Code requires all schools to publish their admissions criteria for the year of admission (eg 2014/15 is the current requirement). However, many schools have not done so. This means it is impossible for complaints to be made by the deadline of 30 June. It is beyond the remit of the Schools Adjudicator to check whether schools comply with the deadline**).

The Government has “streamlined” the process for establishing academies making it easier for Local Authorities (LAs) to open them. (LAs now have no choice if they need a new school. All new schools have to be academies or free schools. This “ease” is actually compulsion.)

Author’s comments:

There seems to be a mismatch between what the OECD has been told and what is happening in reality. This will more fully be discussed in Part 2.


*see faq above What are the examination systems in other countries?

**email to author from the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) 7 May 2013.

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