Research School Network: THE ​‘LONDON EFFECT’ AND THE RISE OF PERSISTENTLY DISADVANTAGED PUPILS Greenshaw Research School welcomed Mary Reader as the first guest of our webinar series on supporting disadvantaged pupils.


Greenshaw Research School welcomed Mary Reader as the first guest of our webinar series on supporting disadvantaged pupils.

Greenshaw Research School welcomed Mary Reader as the first guest of our webinar series on supporting disadvantaged pupils. Mary is the co-author of the Education Policy Institute’s Annual Report into Education in England 2020.

And she delivered some stark news: the disadvantage gap is no longer expected to close at any point.

Last year, the news seemed preposterous, in that the data indicated that it would take 500 years for the gap to close at the rate of progress we were making. This year, the rate of progress is so very small that there can be no prediction of the gap closing at all. Ever.

There were two aspects from Mary’s presentation and the EPI report that caught my attention: that of persistently disadvantaged pupils, and the so-called London Effect’.

Persistently disadvantaged pupils

Pupils can be described as being persistently disadvantaged based on the length of time that they have claimed Free School Schools (FSM) for – the highest level having claimed FSM for at least 80% of their time in education.

One would hope that, in 2020, we would have made some progress in reducing the number of pupils in poverty. Surely?

Unfortunately not. The EPI report concludes that the increasing proportion of children with high persistence in levels of poverty has contributed to the lack of progress in closing the gap.

This group of pupils has seen a growth in their attainment gap since 2014, with those who are most persistently disadvantaged – i.e. they’ve claimed FSM for the longest amount of time – seeing the biggest increases in that gap.

Disadvantage Gap 1

Why this change, this dip down since 2014? There is an argument to be had that national policy changes, such as the reduction of Sure Start centres and the financial squeeze on per pupil funding and other public services, could be seen to be contributing factors. Quite simply put:

The poorer you are, the lower your educational attainment.

The London Effect’

The London effect was first highlighted by Cook in 2013, who described higher levels of attainment in London in comparison with the rest of the country. This ignited some debate around the topic, with a 2014 report by Greaves et al
concluding that primary schools in London seemed to make advances further than their rural counterparts.

There were also some ideas presented that policies such as The London Challenge contributed to this success – this is disputed by Greaves et al who present data showing that the London effect’ was in existence in the 1990s, long before these policies were created.

The 2020 EPI report shows ongoing geographical differences – if it’s not policies, then what is it?

Disadvantage Gap 2

Greaves et al also nod towards ethnicity in their report to explain the effect. Simon Burgess (2014) expanded on this further, taking a forensic look at ethnicity in the city and beyond, and what he found was fascinating.

Digging into the statistics, he identified that Birmingham also showed higher attainment in comparison to the rest of the country, in particularly in poorer neighbourhoods.

In fact, Birmingham outperformed London.

So maybe this is an effect of living in a major city?

Not so. This pattern was not replicated in Manchester and Newcastle, which did not show a similar higher attainment. So it leads us to question then, if it’s not a London specific phenomenon, what is special about both London AND Birmingham?

Burgess comes to this conclusion:

Pupils in London make no faster progress than outside London in most, but not all, ethnic groups. London simply has a lot higher fraction of high-performing groups and a lot lower fraction of low-performing groups, principally White British pupils.’

The sad fact is that the relationship between performance and disadvantage is the same across the country…. for white British pupils. If you are white and British and described as persistently disadvantaged, then you will do worse than your white British more affluent counterparts.

But if you are a different ethnic origin – say any other Asian background – then financial disadvantage does not seem a factor in attainment. As Burgess puts it there are as many high performers living in the poorest neighbourhoods as the richest.’

The EPI annual report uses the infographic below to demonstrate how ethnicities achieve in comparison with white British pupils. What it doesn’t exemplify are the pupil numbers behind the ethnicities, which is the most compelling factor when considering the London and Birmingham effects.

Disadvantage Gap 3

In London, the percentage of white British pupils is 36%. In the rest of the country: 84%. And when considering FSM numbers, in London white British pupils account for 24%, whereas the rest of the country is 77%. (NB: these numbers are taken from Burgess’ 2014 report)

Burgess applied some ethnicity controls to the statistics of attainment, and London fell in line with the rest of the country. As did Birmingham. What seemed to inflate the progress in those cities was the high performing other ethnicities who carried’ a larger weight of progress.

This leads to more questions, yet again: why do other ethnicities – most notably those of Asian ethnicity – outperform their white British disadvantaged counterparts?

Burgess and Greaves both suggest that this may be linked not just to ethnicity, but also to immigration, although they are keen to point out that ethnicity does not describe immigration status per se, despite high correlation between the groups. That this is about ambition and aspiration, which are qualities seen in higher proportion in immigrants, who place high value in education systems, and support their children through these. Leading to the sobering conclusion that:

Being a recent immigrant or being of non-White British ethnicity has a very substantial positive effect on progress through school
(Burgess, 2014)

So there we have it. Pupils are becoming more persistently disadvantaged by poverty, and being white British and disadvantaged seems to be the definition of disaster when it comes to attainment.

Can we break this cycle of underachievement? Can we instil as much aspiration and ambition in the natives as in the immigrant population? And if it is possible, how is it possible?

These seem to be golden ticket questions without screamingly obvious answers.

Let’s see if Logan Fiorella can persuade us that the science of habit, and instilling it in pupils, can contribute towards answering these questions.

Logan Fiorella Image 2020 11 27 120049

More from the Greenshaw Research School

Show all news

This website collects a number of cookies from its users for improving your overall experience of the site.Read more