The Coalition kept its promise to protect school spending but the latest school performance tables reveal a fall in attainment amongst lower attaining learners, especially from poor families.

These are the conclusions of a new report, from the University of Manchester and LSE which provides a comprehensive independent assessment of the Coalition’s record on schools: an essential guide to policies, spending, the changes in the school system and trends in children’s outcomes.

The paper, funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Nuffield Foundation and Trust for London, provides clear evidence designed to help voters assess the Coalition’s successes and failures and identify key challenges facing the next government elected on May 7.

The analysis shows that the Coalition kept its promise to protect school spending, which rose by 1% in real terms between 2009/10 and 2013/14. The Pupil Premium, given to schools for the most disadvantaged students, delivered a real increase in funding to schools with the poorest intakes.

Secondary schools with the highest proportions of pupils entitled to free school meals gained an extra 4.3% funding per year (up to 2012/13) while the least deprived schools lost 2.5 per cent. All types of primary schools gained, especially the most deprived.

However, the latest school performance tables from 2014 – the first to show the effects of the government’s changes to the way GCSEs are assessed – reveal a fall in attainment amongst lower attaining learners, especially from poor families.

At the 5 A*-C level, the gap between pupils from poorer families who are eligible for free school meals and others has gone up from 16 to 28 percentage points, the first increase since measures began in 2002. Higher attaining learners, including those from poorer families, have been less affected.

Lead author, Professor Ruth Lupton, of The University of Manchester, said: “Inequalities in educational outcomes are affected by family poverty and by government policies on curriculum and assessment as well as by the pupil premium, for the most disadvantaged pupils. The fact that the gap between poorer, low achieving pupils and the rest has widened despite the government’s efforts to close it should give cause for concern”.

The report also found that Class sizes in primary schools were at their highest level since the turn of the century, while those in secondary schools were at their lowest.

There was little change in the size of the school workforce between 2010 and 2013 but concerns have been raised about the future supply of teachers, in the face of rising demand.

Recruitment difficulties have emerged in science, technology and maths, while the percentage of lessons taught by teachers with a relevant qualification fell in all subjects between 2010 to 2013 (88.4 to 84.8% in English, 83.6 to 82.7% in maths and 89.1 to 87.6% in science).

·According to Ofsted, the quality of schools has improved. In 2014, 81% were rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ compared with 66% in 2009. However, the proportion of secondary schools rated ‘inadequate’ has also risen, from 3% to 6%, and from 5 to 11% in the most deprived fifth of areas.

The proportion of secondary schools rated as having ‘inadequate’ leadership is also rising and almost doubled between 2012 and 2014.

There is no clear evidence to date that academies are either better or worse than the schools they replaced. However the government has been heavily criticised for rapidly expanding the academies system without putting good accountability structures in place. Managing the new system effectively will be a key challenge for the next government.


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