Media Release

Where children live increasingly important for educational outcomes, says new report

Cross-party commission presents policies to tackle causes of educational inequality

Where children live is becoming a ever more important indicator of their educational performance, according to a study from a cross-party commission on educational inequality, chaired by Nick Clegg.

The Commission on Inequality in Education found that the educational gap between poor and rich children is now wider than it was a generation ago, with pupils in poorer areas -and especially the white working class – falling further behind those from richer homes.

The commission, part of the Social Market Foundation think tank, identified big differences in the qualifications of teachers in poor and rich areas.  Pupils in disadvantaged areas are more likely to be taught by younger teachers who lack a degree in their subject and who are likely to leave for another job after a short time.  Schools in more affluent places are also more likely to have experienced teachers who remain in their post for long periods.

The cross-party commission, chaired by Nick Clegg and comprising a Labour MP and a Conservative MP as well as two independent education policy experts, has produced six recommendations to reduce educational inequality.

To narrow the gap in teaching, the commission calls for:

  • Schools in disadvantaged areas to get funds to help teachers with renting or buying a home, to enable them to attract and keep good teachers
  • Teachers to have to teach in disadvantaged schools if they want to obtain the headship qualification
  • Schools must publish data on training provision and turnover rates for early-career teachers in different schools and across multi-academy trusts.
  • The study also identifies differences in parental engagement as a key factor in the education gap between rich and poor. To increase parental engagement, the report calls for:
  • New contracts between teachers and parents, outlining responsibilities around homework, support and contact.
  • A government-funded programme of primary school after-school “family literacy” classes in poorer areas

The report also proposes new tests for independent schools to retain their charitable status, including providing out-of-school activities to the children of local parents and publishing information about the benefit they provide to the local community, and the monetary value of their charitable tax reliefs.

The chair of the commission Nick Clegg said:

“Despite all the changes in education policy over the years – under Governments of all persuasions – inequality in our school system has sadly remained a constant. This report represents a serious attempt at forging a cross-party consensus on how to tackle one of the great injustices in our country.

“It is simply unacceptable that, as revealed in our report, poorer children are generally taught by less experienced teachers and that their life chances are shaped by the postcode in which they live. In the end, this report confirms something that everybody intuitively knows already: the best education relies on good quality teachers and supportive parents. Our recommendations include specific proposals to support both.”

Social Market Foundation director James Kirkup said:

“This cross-party commission has come up with imaginative and practical answers to one of the great injustices in British life: it simply isn’t fair that where you live should matter more for your chances in life than your talent and your effort.

“Nick Clegg, Suella Fernandes and Stephen Kinnock have shown how sensible politicians can come together to make a difference, and set an example that others should follow.

“The general election result showed no party has the complete confidence of the voters, so all parties should learn from this commission and find ways to work together in the national interest.”



The performance gap between the richest and the poorest has remained persistently large between the mid-1980s and the mid- 2000s, with no significant improvement.

GCSE performance at age 16 across England reveals marked disparities between regions, with over 60% of pupils in London achieving 5 good GCSEs (including English and Maths) compared to 55% in the West and East Midlands.

Comparing the performance of 11-year olds born in 2000 with those born in 1970 reveals that the geographic area a child comes from has become a more powerful predictive factor for those born in 2000 compared to 1970.

While Asian students born in 1970 performed poorly, Chinese, Indian and Bangladeshi-heritage children born in 1999/2000 were the best performers. White students have fallen from out-performers to under-performers on average.

At age 11, Yorkshire & Humberside and the West Midlands have disproportionately high numbers of low-scoring pupils. By contrast, the North West and London have disproportionately high numbers of high-scoring pupils.

The Chinese, Indian, Black African and Other Asian groups have disproportionately high numbers of high-scoring pupils. The Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Black Caribbean and other Black groups have disproportionately high numbers of low-scoring pupils.

Schools with more affluent children have 12% of teachers with more than ten years of experience while the poorest have just 7%.

Pupils in schools serving areas of higher deprivation are much more likely to have teachers without an academic degree in a relevant subject.

A secondary school teacher in the highest deprivation quintile school is, other things being equal, 70% more likely to leave than one at a neighbouring school in the lower deprivation quintile

In verbal reasoning tests for 11-year-olds, the median score for children with someone attending parents’ evening is 3 points higher than for those without.

On average, not reading to a child at age 5 decreases their age 11 test score by 1.5 points.

Children that had someone at home making sure their homework was completed before undertaking other activities (such as watching TV) had scores that were 1.93 points higher than those that did not.

Those children who have a regular bedtime have a score 1.13 points higher than those that do not.



Schools in disadvantaged areas should have access to a fund for providing incentives to teachers that make housing more affordable. This should be run as a trial and the findings used to inform whether such schemes can be expanded in the future.

It should become a condition of gaining the headship qualification that a teacher has been in middle leadership in a school in a disadvantaged area. This would encourage experienced and aspiring teachers and school leaders to spend time in disadvantaged schools.

The Government should compel schools to publish data on training provision and turnover rates for early-career teachers in different schools and across multi-academy trusts. This should be produced in a standardised form so as to promote comparability and shine a light on retention and development problems.

The Government should plan and launch a programme of after-school “family literacy” classes in primary schools with above-average proportions of children eligible for Free School Meals. Funding for these classes should be ring-fenced within the Skills Funding Agency budget.

Schools should take a new approach to contracts between teachers and parents, which should be signed by both parties as equals who both have responsibilities.

Teachers should commit to setting high-quality homework that demonstrably improves the child’s educational development and to supporting parents in helping their children; parents should commit to ensuring that this homework is completed and given due care, and to having regular contact with the school to discuss progress. Contracts should be signed in the early weeks of first attending school and renewed annually with each year’s teachers as the child progresses through the school.

New benchmarks for independent schools to meet in order to retain their charitable status should include their provision of out-of-school activities to the children of parents who live locally.

In addition, independent schools that are registered as charities should publish information on the value of any support (‘public benefit’) they provide to the local community, whether this takes the form of teaching support, making sports facilities available or running extracurricular activities for children from the state-maintained sector in the local area. This should be published alongside an estimate of the monetary value of the tax reliefs that the school enjoys due to charitable status.





About the commission

The commission was convened in January 2016 by Nick Clegg.  The other members are Dr Rebecca Allen of Education Datalab, Suella Fernandes MP, Sam Freedman of Teach First and Stephen Kinnock MP. The secretariat is provided by the Social Market Foundation.

To produce this report, the commission reviewed the evidence on inequality in education, produced new analysis of issues where further focus was needed and consulted with stakeholders across the education system.


The Commission’s previous publications are:

Launch of commission and data on inequality – January 2016 –

Factors contributing to educational disadvantage – April 2016 –

Role of parents in educational attainment – November 2016 –


About the SMF

The Social Market Foundation (SMF) is a non-partisan think tank. We believe that fair markets, complemented by open public services, increase prosperity and help people to live well. We conduct research and run events looking at a wide range of economic and social policy areas, focusing on economic prosperity, public services and consumer markets. The SMF is resolutely independent, and the range of backgrounds and opinions among our staff, trustees and advisory board reflects this.


Contact details

For interviews with members of the commission, or with SMF director James Kirkup, please contact SMF communications manager Mercedes Broadbent on 020 7222 7060 / / 07425 609 148


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