Poorer North East children get lower grades
A DIRECT link between poverty and school performance has been uncovered in new statistics. Nicola Juncar reports on the “poor versus posh” divide in our region.
CHILDREN from poorer families in the North East perform significantly worse in their GCSEs than their better-off classmates.
That’s the worrying find in new Government data, which has revealed a wide gap in exam grades between children who are eligible for free school meals – an indicator for low-income families – and those who aren’t.
According to the statistics published by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), Newcastle had the worst results in our region for performance in last summer’s exams.
Just 17% of the poorest children in the city achieved five good GCSEs, compared to 48% of children from more affluent backgrounds.
Gateshead schools fared a little better, with 24% of pupils from lower-income families achieving five A* to C grades, including English and maths.
However, this is still much lower than the 57% of more affluent pupils who made the grade.
The North East local authority with the largest gap in GCSE performance in 2009 is Northumberland, at 35%.
Meanwhile, it’s a similar picture for the rest of the region, with a gap of around 30% for each local authority.
Martin Surtees, director of performance and commissioning for Newcastle Children’s Services, has noted the connection.
He said: “Sadly, there remains a close link between poverty and school achievement, but we have made good progress in reducing child poverty in Newcastle in recent years, being named a national beacon for our work in the field.
“School achievement is rising steadily in all areas and we are now seeing children staying at school after GCSE and going on to university from backgrounds where a few years ago it would have been unthinkable.”
Beccy Earnshaw, director of Schools North East, a network of primary, secondary and special schools from across the region, says there should be no reason to prevent poorer children from achieving the same as their wealthier peers.
She said: “Nobody involved in education or who cares about the future of our region’s young people can fail to be concerned about these gaps in performance, but there is a huge amount of commitment, work and effort residing within North East schools focused on closing this gap, and ensuring that every young person in our region is able to fulfil their potential, regardless of their background.
“There is a long way to go. A complex and deep-rooted problem such as this requires dedication from all parties involved: schools, parents, communities and industry.
“There is some very good practice to build on in the North East. For example, Harton Technology College in South Shields and Shiremoor Primary School in North Tyneside were named by Ofsted as two of the best schools in the country excelling against the odds in challenging circumstances.”
The Government data has also been criticised by national charity, Save the Children, which has an ongoing campaign to end child poverty.
Fergus Drake, Save the Children’s director of UK Programmes, said: “Poverty kills childhood and severely damages prospects. Many of the UK’s poorest children live in substandard housing, have fewer books and educational games at home, lower aspirations and less confidence in their own ability to achieve their dreams.
“They often have families who desperately want them to do well at school but who lack the confidence to support their children’s learning.
“Without this support, poorer children don’t get the head-start and advantages enjoyed by their better-off classmates.”