Poor children fall further behind in early education
PUBLISHED: 16:55 07 August 2019 | UPDATED: 18:09 07 August 2019
Suffolk's poorer pupils are lagging further behind their peers in the formative years of their education, new figures show.
According to the Education Policy Institute's (EPI) 'Education in England: Annual Report 2019', Suffolk's disadvantage gap in early years education grew to five months in 2018, up from 4.3 months the previous year.
Meanwhile, while there has been a relative improvement in the county's primary and secondary schools, children from poorer backgrounds are still falling behind, with some finishing more than a year and a half behind their wealthier peers.
In Ipswich, the disadvantage gap at the end of GCSEs is 21.4 months - well above the national average of 18.1 months.
Jack Abbott, Suffolk county councillor and Labour spokesman for children's services and education, called the figures "shameful".
He criticised the council for considering cuts to "vital" services across the county, including a huge revamp of Suffolk's children's centres - which is set to be presented for public feedback in the Autumn.
However Gordon Jones, cabinet member for children's services, education and skills, said the Labour spokesman was "somewhat confused" - arguing the proposed changes will actually address the perceived education gap and improve access to early years support.
Commenting on the figures, Mr Abbott said: "Early years are the most crucial period of child's development - we know that high quality early years provision narrows the gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged children and has a lasting positive impact on outcomes.
"Why then, at a time when the disadvantage gap at early years is widening, are the Conservatives at Suffolk County Council even considering such brutal cuts to children's centres and health visitor numbers?
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"By dismantling these vital services, they are knowingly exacerbating the conditions that have already created deep inequalities, directly impacting on the poorest children in our society.
"I realise that the Tories are desperate to find a quick fix for their financial woes, but their willingness to sacrifice the outcomes of children to make short-term cuts is really beyond the pale."
He added: "The Ipswich Opportunity Area (IOA) brings a small pot of funding and resources, but this alone will not be enough to eliminate the vast education disadvantage gap.
"Suffolk is estimated to have suffered real-term funding cuts of £40.3million in just four years, a loss of £178 per pupil. When these cuts to education are combined with other Conservative policies that have left 50,000 children living in poverty in our county, it should come as little surprise that the education disadvantage gap should remain so extreme.
"This terrible situation should not be normalised or accepted as inevitable. It is shameful that in 2019, the outcomes of children are still being so clearly defined by the size of their family's bank account."
Defending the council's position, Mr Jones said: "According to the report Suffolk, at Key Stage 4 and above is in the top 50% of local authorities with the smallest attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils. For Key Stage 2 and Early Years, Suffolk falls below this group, however, the county's figures for this group are at the top of our statistical neighbour group compared to other councils similar in size and demographic makeup.
"The council completely agrees that the early years for any child are the most crucial period for their development. That's exactly why we are proposing to correct the historic imbalance of nursery provision in many areas of Suffolk by repurposing 11 of the current children's centre settings to deliver focussed services in the future for early years provision and children with SEND requirements.
"Mr Abbott is somewhat confused because the proposed actions of this council will address the perceived gap that he highlights between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged children who have access to early years support.
"As Mr Abbott also well knows, we have agreed to take these proposals forward to a full public consultation to seek the views of parents who use the services now, and those who may wish to do so in the future.
"Whilst the Labour Group have recently stated it's 'extremely dangerous to ask the public their views', I do not agree with their position and look forward to listening to residents views when the consultation begins in the next couple of months."