Media Release

Poorer pupils facing a ‘cocktail of disadvantage’ in the classroom

New research from the Social Market Foundation’s Commission on Inequality in Education has found that poorer pupils are more likely to be affected by four teaching factors which contribute to worse educational outcomes.

Quality of teaching is the most important school-based factor for educational outcomes, and previous research shows pupils make less progress when:

  • they have a teacher that does not have a formal teaching qualification;
  • they have a less experienced teacher;
  • they have a teacher without a degree in the relevant subject; and
  • teacher turnover at their school is high.

New analysis, carried out by Education Datalab for the SMF’s cross-party Commission, which is chaired by Nick Clegg MP, finds that poor pupils in England and Wales are more likely to face all four disadvantages.

Launching the Commission’s new research, its chair, the Rt Hon Nick Clegg MP said:

“Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds do less well on average at school than those from more privileged backgrounds. This inequality in outcomes is substantial and persistent.

“This new research suggests that poor pupils are facing a ‘cocktail of disadvantage’ – they’re more likely to have unqualified teachers, non-specialist teachers, less experienced teachers, and to have a high turnover of teachers.

“Many new teachers, to their credit, choose to teach in schools in poorer areas. Improving their pay and the support they receive could mean they are more likely to stay in those schools as they become more experienced and effective.”

Rebecca Allen, Director of Education Datalab, and a member of the Commission, said:

“Teacher recruitment and retention has become much more difficult since the period we studied here. Given that more disadvantaged schools were already doing worse than more advantaged schools in recruiting to long-standing shortage subjects such as physics and maths, it seems most likely that more widespread shortages will disproportionately affect them.”

The Commission’s latest report, authored by Dr Rebecca Allen, Sam Sims and SMF Director Emran Mian, proposes a number of policy options for tackling the issue, including:

  • improving support for teachers in schools with high proportions of low income pupils. This would make it less likely that they leave and in time would mean that these schools have more experienced teachers than they do presently.
  • finding new ways to encourage experience teachers to teach in higher deprivation schools. It may be that considerable pay incentives are needed to facilitate this.

Key points from the research:

  • The proportion of teachers who are not qualified in primary schools with the highest concentration of Free School Meals pupils is 4%, while in the most affluent quintile this is 2%.
  • The gradient is similar for secondary schools where the richest have 5% unqualified teachers and the poorest have 9%.
  • The richest primary schools have 12% of teachers with more than ten years of experience while the poorest have just 7%. Among secondary schools the figures are 12% and 8% respectively. Richer schools also have a higher proportion of teachers with between five and ten years of experience.
  • These inequalities in experience are compounded by inequalities in expertise. More deprived schools are much more likely to have teachers with inappropriate qualifications. The ‘expertise gap’ is 10 percentage points for Key Stage 4 Maths, 14 percentage points for Chemistry and a remarkable 22 percentage points for Physics.
  • Poorer schools also experience higher levels of teacher turnover. The gradient is steepest at secondary level where a teacher in the highest deprivation quintile school is, other things being equal, 70% more likely to leave. The odds of leaving the highest deprivation quintile school at primary level are 20% higher.



For further details about the research, please contact David Mills, SMF communications director, via / 020 7222 7060.

To arrange interviews with Rt Hon Nick Clegg MP, please contact Phil Reilly in the office of Nick Clegg on / 07859 808811.

About the SMF Commission on Inequality in Education

The Commission on Inequality in Education takes as its starting point the contention that undeserved inequalities are a barrier to social mobility and result in unfairness. It recognises that there is agreement across the political spectrum that we should be seeking to close the gap between the performance of disadvantaged children and their better-off classmates.

The Commission comprises three elected politicians from different parties – Rt Hon Nick Clegg MP (its chair), Conservative MP Suella Fernandes and Labour MP Stephen Kinnock – and two recognised education experts – Sam Freedman of Teach First and Dr Rebecca Allen of Education Datalab. They work closely with the SMF’s team of researchers.

We anticipate that the Commission’s work will be supported by a number of funders. The Commission retains full independence in relation to how it works and its conclusions. It will report its full findings early next year.

The Commission’s initial report was released in January and can be found here on the Commission’s website:

About the Social Market Foundation

The Social Market Foundation is an independent, non-partisan think tank which develops innovative ideas across a broad range of economic and social policy. We believe that fair markets, complemented by open public services, increase prosperity and help people to live well.

About Education Datalab

Education Datalab, part of the non-profit company FFT Education Ltd, produces independent, cutting-edge research using large-scale administrative and survey datasets that can be used by policy makers to inform education policy, and by schools to improve practice.



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