Educational disadvantage: how does England compare?


Analysis by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) and Professors John Jerrim and Toby Greany at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) examines how disadvantaged pupils in England compare with those in other countries. The report assesses: the performance of disadvantaged pupils in England, compared to other countries; and the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers in England, compared to other countries. It converts the latest results from the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) into GCSE grades, allowing for a direct comparison of pupil performance with England. It is well documented that England trails behind many other developed countries when it comes to maths performance of all pupils in the triannual PISA tests, yet this research finds this unwelcome situation also extends to the disadvantage gap in maths. At GCSE level, it finds that the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers in England is equivalent to one whole grade – positioning England in the bottom half of developed nations, in 27th place out of 44. In reading, the findings are slightly more positive – although the gap still stands at three quarters of a grade. England, again, lingers in a mid-table position.

Alongside the disadvantage gap, the report also looks at the overall performance of disadvantaged pupils in England, and how they compare with leading nations’ disadvantaged pupils. Painting a picture that is equally as worrying for social mobility, our findings show that just one in 10 disadvantaged pupils in England achieve top grades in GCSE maths – nearly half as many as the number of disadvantaged pupils in Singapore. The final section of the report identifies countries which perform well in terms of both the overall performance of disadvantage pupils, and the disadvantage gap – and sets out how England can learn from them. It finds that countries which achieve both high performance and greater equity tend to have policies which avoid selection by ability and segregation between schools. They also tend to have a significant focus on attracting, supporting and retaining high quality teachers.

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