Probe into widening achievement gap between schools

Bucks County Councillor Val Letheren - Chairman of the Select Committee for Education, Skills and Children's Services
Bucks County Councillor Val Letheren - Chairman of the Select Committee for Education, Skills and Children's Services
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The widening achievement gap between the best and worst performing Bucks pupils is to be investigated in a county council probe.

Bucks has one of the widest achievement gaps in the country and the Pupil Premium grant scheme has done little to provide a solution, according to Councillor Valerie Letheren, the chairman of the committee looking into the problem.

The grant was introduced in 2011 to help improve the results of children from low income families, with schools receiving £900 per pupil who has got free school meals in the past six years. In Bucks, Key Stage 4 pupils are the biggest issue, with less than 30% of those who get free meals achieving five or more A* to C GCSEs in 2012, compared to 72% of those who did not get free food. That gap was the widest in the country.

Mrs Letheren’s education, skills and children’s services select committee will investigate how the grant money is being spent by schools and recommend ways they could use it better.

She said: “When the schools get the money there’s a tremendous difference in the way that they use it to narrow the gap. Fifty per cent of Ofsted inspections have found the Pupil Premium is having little or no impact on the way they organise their schools.

“Having this achievement gap doesn’t make a good society, you have the ‘haves and have nots’. The Pupil Premium is not making the difference it should make and we are trying to see why.”

Mrs Letheren believes the problem starts at an early age, with nursery school children needing more attention to ensure they are not left behind from the start.

She said: “You have got to work on it early in children’s lives to help them overcome the disadvantages. The gap gets wider the older the children get and everyone should have the same chance.”

Part of the reason for the gap may be the difference in standards between grammar schools and the rest. This issue is made worse by wealthy families being able to afford ‘coaching’ for their children to get them into a grammar school.

However, Mrs Letheren hopes new measures to ‘tutor-proof’ the 11-plus will prevent this from happening.

She said: “Our grammar schools are exceptional, something we should be proud of. But it would be good to make those schools available to all our children, not just those whose parents can afford to pay for coaching.”

The ‘Narrowing the Gap’ probe is due to take three months to complete.