Posted on 10 March 2023

​A new report from the Centre for Social Justice has writ large the staggering differences in attainment across the primary school system in the United Kingdom. The report describes how thousands of primary school pupils each year do not reach the correct standards and requirements and are then sent forward to secondary school at a massive disadvantage. The headline points from the report have been received with harrowing anticipation from campaigners to see whether the current government or Department for Education is set to respond.

Amongst other things, the report found 2 in 5 pupils completed year 6 without meeting the expected standards in reading, writing and maths. This meant nearly 300,000 children left year 6 without a secure grasp of foundational skills pivotal to further learning. What’s more, the attainment gap is thought to affect children from disadvantaged areas who are more likely to also be minority ethnic or black, with a staggering 57% of children expected to leave without foundational skills. Authors of the report and activists fear the lack of attainment in these communities will further divide and segregate these communities and increase the ties of inequality.

A big part of the report discusses the impact school closures, segregation, lockdowns and the coronavirus pandemic has played in delaying students learning and putting a wedge between higher and lower achieving pupils. Some pupils need more attentive learning and provisions because of differences in their personality, attention, language skills and learning styles. Many of those students do well with teacher learning and from teaching assistants, but some students have issues of comprehension and understanding. These students, ideally, should be assessed by a speech and language therapist. However, there is a big lack of resources for this much needed role in and out of schools and this is thought to be widening the attainment gap. The report, in reference to these pupils and their need for specialist services, found;

  • Two-thirds of primary school teachers said a lack of support for children with speech, language and communication issues was the fundamental barrier to pupils gaining foundational skills after the pandemic. This need was especially prevalent in areas of deprivation and poor and minority ethnic/black areas.

  • Nearly 70% of head teachers use a local NHS or out-of- school speech therapist service for speech and language support in their school, but say there is an unacceptably long waiting list, and only 1 in 6 teachers say there is an in-school speech and language therapist for pupils to access

  • Four-in-five teachers say that demand for speech and language needs support has increased after the lockdowns and coronavirus pandemic. The majority of teachers and headteachers say they can’t meet this demand with current provision and only 1 in 10 teachers have an idea how they will meet student’s needs.

Although the Department for Education discusses their ambition to improve the life and prospects for young people, the system does not seem set up for all pupils. To that end, the report identifies areas of weakness, “the idea that 90 per cent of all children in 2030 will leave primary school reaching these expected standards is a far cry from reality. Our polling reveals that at the just 40 per cent of teachers said that they were confident that most of their pupils would meet expected standards in 2023. Even starker, just 17 per cent of teachers are confident that this will be true for most of their disadvantaged pupils”.

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