The news that the poorest youngsters are actually doing worse in the English and maths national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds is deeply disturbing. In the past, when there have been reports that the gap in performance between rich and poor pupils is growing, it has been attributed to disadvantaged youngsters not improving at such a fast rate. Now, thanks to research from the newly set-up Education Endowment Foundation, we know the percentage of disadvantaged youngsters in underperforming schools who cannot read, write or add up properly by the time they start secondary school has actually increased from 55 per cent to 60 per cent in the three years from 2007 to 2009. It is, as Education Secretary Michael Gove rightly says, a scandal.
So what is to be done? One answer is obviously the pupil premium – whereby schools are given extra cash for every free school meal pupil they take on. At present, it is £430 a year but the Coalition needs to stick with its plans for a major increase in this figure in the future, despite the Government's austerity drive.
There is a caveat, here, though. These failing schools have benefited from public spending largesse in the past but today's research appears to show they have not used it wisely. So money alone is not the answer.
The Government's plan to partner underperforming schools with a successful neighbouring institution is a sensible structural reform. But there is also a case for a greater focus on results. The literacy and numeracy hours for primary schools – which met with such success in the early years of the Blair government – have been relaxed of late. Perhaps it is time to revive them in the worst performing schools.