Today's columnist, Nick Clegg: Giving all children a chance

Reducing inequality in education is a cause close to my heart.

Monday, 29th February 2016, 1:15 pm
Updated Monday, 29th February 2016, 1:21 pm
One of the two new classrooms at Ribbon Academy, Murton

For years we have known that the life chances of children in Britain are dictated largely by the economic circumstances of their parents regardless of talent or intellect.

This is something that many people have sought to address, as I did during my time in Government too.

In coalition we introduced the Pupil Premium, extra investment for schools with poorer students which headteachers directed towards helping those pupils keep up with their peers.

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This investment rose to £2.5 billion a year and has paid for breakfast clubs, one-to-one tuition, extra staff and equipment, and outreach programmes.

We also extended free early years education and introduced free school meals for all infants in schools.

One of my proudest moments in government was when the primary school results were published in 2014 and the gap between poorer students and their better-off classmates was narrowing.

This now hangs in the balance. The new Conservative Government has chosen to reduce overall funding in real terms for schools, unlike the protection given to schools during the coalition.

As a result, the pupil premium is increasingly being used to backfill holes in the wider schools budget, meaning those poorer pupils are not getting the boost the premium was intended for.

It is also clear that inequality in education comes in many shapes and sizes.

It is not just parents’ wealth holding large numbers of bright kids back, but postcode inequality too. Research from the Social Market Foundation has found that the area a child grows up in has a real impact on their life chances.

Yorkshire and Humber has the lowest level of education attainment in England.

While 70 per cent of pupils in London now gain five A*-C GCSEs; only 63 per cent achieve this in our region – and Sheffield is no exception.

In November, Sheffield City Council received a damning letter from the regional OFSTED chief, alerting council bosses that Sheffield’s Key Stage 1 results were below average and ‘inexcusable’.

That’s why I’m chairing an independent commission to examine inequality in education.

We will examine the full picture and look at disparities not just in income, but area, gender and race too.

We owe it to future generations to give them the best chance to reach their potential, regardless of the circumstances of their birth.

* Nick Clegg, Sheffield Hallam MP