This report by the Education Policy Institute, ‘Access to high performing schools in England’, looks at the density of high quality secondary school places across England, comparing high quality places in 2015 with 2010 in order to identify whether geographic access to high performing schools is improving. Widening access to high performing schools is crucial if the government’s policy objective of improving social mobility is to be met. Indeed, the Department for Education’s recently published Social Mobility Action Plan has a strong emphasis on ‘place’, and states that ‘where you live will affect where you get to in life – while in some areas opportunity can become self-perpetuating, in other communities, disadvantage can become entrenched’.
The report finds that access to high performing schools in England has become more geographically unequal over the period 2010-2015. This is in spite of government policies aimed at improving school performance outside higher performing areas such as London. Virtually all local authorities with consistently low densities of high performing school places are in the North, particularly the North East and Yorkshire and the Humber. In Blackpool and Hartlepool local authorities there are no high performing secondary school places. From 2010 to 2015, local authorities with consistently good access to high performing secondary schools saw the proportion of pupils with access to such schools rise from 49% in 2010 to 58% in 2015. Many of these areas are in London. However, in areas with consistently low densities of high performing school places, the proportion of pupils with access to such places fell from just 6% in 2010 to 5% in 2015. These include areas such as Blackpool, Hartlepool, Barnsley, Redcar and Cleveland, Knowsley, and Middlesborough.