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It has long been recognised that educational development is influenced by a complex range of factors, including individual characteristics, the wider family environment, the neighbourhood where children live and the schools they attend.[1]  In England the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their non-disadvantaged peers has been closing but only slowly and recent research has shown that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are not able to catch up with their more advantaged peers between the ages of 3 and 16.[2]   Furthermore, in 2017 the Education Policy Institute identified significant local variation and observed that the gap in attainment becomes more prominent in rural areas by the end of secondary school.[3]

As is the case nationally, in 2017 a lower proportion of disadvantaged pupils reached benchmark levels of attainment than their non-disadvantaged peers.  From Early Years through to Key Stage 2 disadvantaged pupils (including FSM) in Herefordshire did similarly to their peers nationally, but fell away slightly at the end of Key Stage 4. 

In line with the picture nationally EAL pupils in Herefordshire perform much better across all year groups than other ‘disadvantaged’ groups, although, with the exception of Year One Phonics decoding, slightly worse than EAL pupils nationally.

Disadvantaged children

The Department for Education defines a disadvantaged pupil as those eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) at any time during the last 6 years; or those children who are looked after by the local authority for at least one day; or who have left care through adoption, residence order, special guardianship order, or child arrangement order.  Free School Meals (FSM) can be claimed for children by parents who receive a qualifying state benefit.[4] Eligibility for FSM is widely used in official estimates of educational disadvantage in Britain, despite recent research that suggests it significantly under-estimates the number of disadvantaged pupils.[5]   

In 2018, there were 1,174 primary school pupils in Herefordshire eligible for FSM; 8.5% per cent of pupils compared to 13.7% nationally.  At secondary level there were 679; 7.3% per cent of Herefordshire pupils, compared to 12.4% nationally.

Under the Diminishing the difference agenda, the attainment of disadvantaged pupils (including FSM pupils) is benchmarked against the performance of non-disadvantaged / non-FSM pupils nationally.

Pupils eligible for Free School Meals (FSM)

Exceeding the trend nationally, since 2014 there has been a marked improvement in the proportion of FSM pupils who achieved a Good Level of Development (GLD) at the end of Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS).  Whereas in 2014 Herefordshire was significantly worse than nationally (34% compared to 45%), in 2017 pupils in Herefordshire performed better than nationally (59% compared to 56%), the West Midlands region (also 56%) and Herefordshire’s statistical neighbours (53.2%).  Nevertheless, there is still a notable gap between these children and their less disadvantaged peers both nationally and locally.

Provisional data from 2018 suggest that the proportion of FSM pupils achieving the expected level in phonics in year one has increased to 74% in Herefordshire and to 70% nationally.   Since 2012 this proportion has increased markedly in Herefordshire (from 36%) in line with the trend seen nationally.  The gap between FSM pupils in Herefordshire and non-FSM pupils nationally (the benchmark) has fallen from 23 percentage points in 2015 to 11 in 2018. 

Progress 8

Progress 8 [6] measures a student's progress between starting and finishing secondary school (i.e. from Key Stage 2 to 4) across eight key subjects. It aims to capture the progress a pupil makes from the end of primary school to the end of secondary school. Pupils' results are compared to the actual achievements of other pupils with similar prior attainment.[7]

In 2017, the average Progress 8 score per pupil eligible for FSM in Herefordshire was -0.54, down from -0.48 in 2016.  It was also lower compared to the West Midlands (-0.45) and England (-0.48).  The average Progress 8 score for non-FSM pupils was 0.04 in Herefordshire and nationally.

Figure 1: Attainment of Disadvantaged and Free School Meal pupils in Herefordshire in 2017.

Chart showing the attainment of disadvantaged and Free School Meal pupils in Herefordshire in 2017

Legend to above chart

Data sources:  Educational analysis - Herefordshire Council and Department for Education Local Authority Interactive Tool (LAIT)

* See below regarding provisional 2018 figures.

** Non-disadvantaged or non-Free School Meal pupils in England.

Pupils with English as an additional language

According to the Department for Education, a pupil’s first language is defined as any language other than English that a child was exposed to during early development and continues to be exposed to in the home or community.

Pupils learning English as an additional language (EAL) share many common characteristics with pupils whose first language is English. However, their learning experience differs because they are learning in and through another language, and because they may come from cultural backgrounds and communities that have different understandings and expectations of education, language and learning.[8]

The performance of pupils whose first language is other than English will be affected by the length of time that they have resided and been educated in England. Those with several years of state education are likely to perform better than newly arrived pupils with fewer English speaking skills.  It should be noted that recent research has suggested that current measurements of attainment by children with EAL are misleading, as they fail to adequately take account of the heterogeneous nature of this group.[9] 

In 2018, there were 1,352 pupils with EAL at primary school in Herefordshire; 9.8% of primary pupils compared to 21.2% nationally.  5.5% of secondary pupils (509 pupils) in Herefordshire had English as an additional language, compared to 16.6% nationally.  The largest language groups other than English are currently Polish (813 pupils), Lithuanian (150), Romanian (131) and Portuguese (71).

Nationally, whilst pupils with English as an additional language (EAL) make more progress and achieve higher outcomes, on average, than others, there are still significant numbers who have low attainment.[10]   The performance of EAL pupils is benchmarked against the performance of all pupils nationally.

In 2017, the proportion of EYFS pupils with EAL achieving a Good Level of Development was marginally lower than that in England as a whole (63% compared to 65%), but in Year 1 Phonics decoding the proportion was slightly higher (84% compared to 82%).  Provisionally the proportion of EAL pupils in the county achieving the expected level in phonics in 2018 is 83%; marginally less than in 2017.  At Key Stage Two the proportion of EAL pupils achieving the expected standard in Reading, Writing and Mathematics was again slightly lower than for the cohort nationally (59% compared to 61%) and at GCSE level the gap, based on the ‘Attainment 8’ measure had increased slightly (42.7% compared to 47.7%).

Figure 2: Attainment of pupils with English as an additional language (EAL) in Herefordshire in 2017.

Attainment of pupils with English as an additional language in Herefordshire in 2017

Legend to above chart

** The benchmark for EAL pupils is all pupils nationally.

Data sources:  Educational analysis - Herefordshire Council.

[1] Closing the achievement gap in England's secondary schools, Save the Children, 2012.

[2] Closing the educational attainment gap. University of Bristol.

[3] Closing the Gap?  Trends in educational attainment and disadvantage,  J. Andrews, D. Robinson and J. Hutchinson, Education Policy Institute, 2017, p.6.

[4] All pupils who are eligible for and claiming free school meals based on household income and benefit receipt. It does not include pupils claiming a free school meal under the Universal Infant Free School Meals programme, where free school meals are available to all infant pupils regardless of household income or benefit claims.

[5] The reliability of Free School Meal eligibility as a measure of socio-economic disadvantage: evidence from the Millennium Cohort Study in Wales, C. Taylor, British Journal of Educational Studies, 2017, pp.1-23. 

[6] Progress 8 is based on pupils’ performance in English and maths, up to three subjects from the Ebacc list, and students’ three highest scores from a range of other qualifications, including GCSEs and approved non-GCSEs. English and maths are given double weighting to reflect their importance.  The Progress 8 score is calculated by comparing each student's Attainment 8 score to those nationally of other students who had the same KS2 SATs results. A school’s Progress 8 score is usually between -1 and +1. A score of +1 means that pupils in that school achieve one grade higher in each qualification than other similar pupils nationally. A score of -1 means they achieve one grade lower. -

[7] Progress 8: How Progress 8 and Attainment 8 measures are calculated, Department for Education, p.2. 

[8] Developing Quality Tuition: Effective practice in schools, Department for Education, p.1. 

[9] Educational Outcomes for Children with English as an Additional Language, J. Hutchinson, Education Policy Institute and The Bell Foundation, 2018, p.7.

[10] Closing the Gap?, p.7.