Educational Achievement and Disadvantaged Children: towards a Paradigm Shift

When children do well at school it’s because they had great teachers. When they do badly it’s because they’re disadvantaged.” Staffroom comment


Covid-19 has heightened awareness of disadvantaged children. Firstly, Marcus Rashford’s free school meals campaign galvanised support. Secondly, school closures emphasised the digital divide. Both got quick fixes. School meals were financed for 2020 and about half a million laptops have been provided, without an internet connexion. Fully meeting the twin challenges will be a long overdue paradigm shift.1

Disadvantaged children usually under-perform, “Overall if you’ve needed contact with a social worker at any time since year 5, on average you are going to score 20 grades lower across eight GCSEs.”2 Another report says, “…the most academically able pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are most at risk of under-performing.”3 Many British schools fail the educational challenge. The government’s invested £2.41 billion in Pupil Premium (PP) in 2020-214 yet the achievement gap remains (Addendum one).

Towards a Paradigm Shift

Covid-19 exacerbated hunger and the digital divide. School closures meant no weekday meals. This was collateral damage for disadvantaged children. Closures also meant they were expected to learn whilst hungry. Trussell food banks provided nearly two million utilitarian meals in 2019-20, a sad commentary on our decrepit welfare system. Worse, food banks corrode self-esteem, another factor in low achievement.

School closures meant teaching ceased for disadvantaged children. The government recognised this and funded laptops. Many schools bought laptops for those who weren’t disadvantaged ‘enough’.

Not accepting negative feedback means schools are blind to the attainment gap. On many websites the GCSE results avoid mentioning grades 1-3. These students are ignored as if the school had nothing to do with their under-performance, which continues despite PP funding. Schools should critique themselves and challenge failed learning strategies.

It is for schools to decide how the Pupil Premium [PP], allocated to schools per FSM1 student, is spent, since they are best placed to assess what additional provision should be made for the individual pupils within their responsibility.”5 (my emphasis) The individuality of disadvantaged children includes living in chaotic and troubled environments. Additionally 700,000 have caring roles, leaving them physically and emotionally challenged. (Addendum two)

PP provides funding for the needs of disadvantaged children. Remote learning and readily available specialist websites should be utilised. Disadvantaged children might not fit in with school-time for compelling reasons. This is especially true for 700,000 children who are carers. Schools should focus on the needs of the individual disadvantaged child, thus fulfilling the government’s aims. The Covid-19 pandemic has challenged the paradigm of classroom based learning and is thereby an opportunity.

Addendum one: the lack of impact of Pupil Premium on achievement

Failure of this magnitude should call into question the entire programme

Addendum two: young carers

The BBC estimates that there are about 700,000 young carers in the UK. Being a young carer often means looking after a family member who is ill, or helping them by looking after the other members of the family while they can’t.

Young carers (


1 A paradigm shift is a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions. The best example is the change from believing the sun rotated round the earth to the earth rotating round the sun.

2 New measures to support disadvantaged children in schools – GOV.UK (

3 Pupil premium – GOV.UK (

4 SN06700.pdf p7

5 This statement appears in every school website that receives the Pupil Premium


For government supplied laptops see Get laptops and tablets for children who cannot attend school due to coronavirus (COVID-19) – GOV.UK (

For the pupil premium see Pupil premium – GOV.UK (

For the achievement gap in UK see Supporting the attainment of disadvantaged pupils ( p5

For supporting disadvantaged children see Supporting the attainment of disadvantaged pupils (

For the impact of reductions in other school budgets on the disadvantaged see School budget cuts undermining pupil premium, says watchdog | Education policy | The Guardian

For the cost nationally of the pupil premium see SN06700.pdf

For Trussell food banks see Our aim is to end hunger and poverty in the UK | The Trussell Trust

For the impact of poor diet see 1_NFS_Report_spv_ExecSummary-web.pdf ( The full report is a profitable read but the executive summary is a very good place to start.

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