Investigating education disparity in the UK

Education inequality starts from the moment a child is born. From Early Years, through to Primary, Secondary, Further and Higher Education. Inequality stems from your postcode, income, to your ethnicity and much much more.

We’ve always been told if you study hard and try your best you can achieve. This is far from the truth.

In fact, the reality is that your location, income and colour of your skin can lock you (or your child) out of education. These factors can define achievements and limit overall progression in life – in a society that promises to be meritocratic.

Here is my very brief summation of  education disparity in the UK – I know this is only the tip of the iceberg and so many more factors are a part of this inequality…

Mapping out geographical inequality

Location is a key factor in education disparity and cannot be overlooked.

Although I’m just going to be delving into the regional differences, there are of course pockets within these regions where disparities reside.

The Government’s recent Ofsted Report shows a clear North and South divide: 78 % of secondary schools are now ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ but the North and Midlands Schools fall dismally behind – a gap that has continued to widen since 2014-15. Early years and primary education has seen an improvement but overall the score for deprived areas is still lower.

It has also been proven by the Social Market Foundation (SMF) that low income communities are more likely to have less experienced and qualified secondary school teachers, as these deprived areas and schools see a higher turnover of staff, and experience recruitment difficulties. It is clear that we need to redistribute teaching expertise, as this only compounds the problem and number of schools ‘below the floor’.

We are failing children in poverty. Not only are they not as ‘school-ready’ as their peers but once in the education system they are being let down by poor teaching simply due to where they live. This in turn has a profound effect on the number of student’s achieving 5+ A* to C grades at GCSE – only helping to widen the regional attainment gap. UCAS figures also show a region disparity in students applying for University, as well as disadvantaged areas.

Although the Borough I live in has about 90% of schools rated as good or outstanding growing up this was not the case.  It sounds strange when I say it but I had never read a whole book till the I was in year 9 which is about the age 14. After GCSE’s for me to get a better education my parents moved me to a more affluent borough to complete my 6th form studies because it meant better teaching and better outcomes. Where you to choose to live in the country should absolutely not affect the standard of education that you, or your child, receive. Opportunity should not be a postcode lottery!

Shedding light on income and education disparity

Children from low-income families are being robbed of a good education; it’s daylight robbery and it happens in plain sight.

Wealthier families are in a position to ensure and secure their child’s progression from the early years onwards: from tutors, to educational activities, books, toys and access to the best schools.

Their privilege allows them to pay for outstanding private education – as well as having their pick of the top state, and grammar schools in the country. A child that has received more educational opportunities is of course going to achieve the grades to enter a grammar school – or be in a position to relocate into the catchment area of a top state school.

Research by Teach First has exposed the domination of top state secondary schools by rich families, revealing that 43% of pupils at England’s outstanding secondary schools are from the wealthiest 20% of families! It’s far from surprising to see these stats emerge. Additionally, students in private education are two years ahead of their peers by age 16, and much more likely to go onto University – attending a Russell Group University or Oxbridge.

The problem is only perpetuated when it comes to Higher Education. The HE Bill due to be debated in House of Commons this week proposes a tiered HE system that grades universities bronze, silver and gold. Depending on the rank universities obtain, they will be permitted to raise their fees – which will lead to the marketisation of HE, whereby only the richest students can enter into the top universities.

My hope is that rather than exaggerating an already expanding wealth and education divide, we can find a viable route to bridge access to education and halt further fee rises.

Race and education in the spotlight

The role of race is significant when looking into education equality and how we can close the performance gap.

During the Early Years and School there is a substantial attainment gap between the performance of African-Caribbean, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Traveller and Gypsy students throughout compulsory schooling. On the flip side, those of Chinese and Indian heritage were above national average at all key stages.

Post-16 education paints a different story, with Black and Asian students being more likely to remain in full-time education than their White peers. Bangladeshi and Pakistani adults were most likely to have no qualifications. Undoubtedly social-economic factors play a massive part in this disparity, as well as regional location.

I came over from Ghana at a young age and enrolled in the British education system. Thanks to my family, friends and social work I thrived but many of my peers finished schooling and didn’t progress onto Further Education – let alone Higher Education. In an Unconscious Bias Report published by UCAS it is recognised that entry rates for ethnic groups have increased, however there are still differences in average offer rate between; Asian (63.7%), Black (63.8%), Mixed (73.0%) and White (75.1%). I was able to attended university because of my parents attitude towards my education – they definitely pushed me to continue my studies and to earn qualifications. Without them as a driving force behind me, and student loans, it’s safe to say I wouldn’t be where I am today.


Education disparity is still overwhelmingly present in our society today. The harsh reality is this: if you are from a low-income family, live in the North and are African-Caribbean you are more likely to go to a poorly rated school, less likely to achieve good grades, less likely to continue your education and get offered a place at university. In January 2016 David Cameron promised us a Life Chances Strategy as part of his “assault on poverty”. It was disappointing to see this get dropped, and the Social Justice Green Paper be postponed in light of Brexit. In my view, a strategy of this magnitude can’t be and should not be delayed, as postcode, income and race should not define education and achievement.


Further reading…


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