Socio-economic status continues to be the dominant factor in predicting a child’s progress at school and how well they prosper during adulthood.

Unsurprisingly, the educational performance of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds in England today is significantly lower than their peers. Adjusting the lens to focus globally, the attainment gap between rich and poor in the UK is exacerbated. Out of the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OCED), the UK ranked 28th for the number of disadvantaged pupils from the bottom quarter of the socio-economic index that achieved in the top quarter of all students.4

Countries like Korea, Finland and Japan have performed better in closing the socio-economic attainment gap by adopting equity-based education systems. These systems and policies champion high-quality education for all, with the specific aim of reducing the income gap between rich and poor and improve future prospects of their youth.

It is not just a problem of the impoverished and pupils of all abilities are affected.

A recent report published by the Sutton Trust estimates that around 7,000 pupils each year who performed in the top ten percent at age 11 fail to achieve in the top 25 per cent at GCSE. Boys and pupils eligible for the pupil premium are most likely to fall into this ‘missing talent’ group. A quote from Chief Executive of UCAS at the time warned that young men are increasingly becoming a ‘disadvantaged group’ when applying for university positions.

The gender attainment gap at GCSE has been a long-standing issue since the 1980’s and it’s only grown over time.

By October 2018, girls continue to outperform boys in all the headline measures at Key Stage 4.5 The gender gap for Attainment 8 has increased to 5.6 percentage points (representing an increase of 0.3 points) while the English and Maths attainment measure widened by a further 0.6 points to 6.8 percentage points. Preconceptions that boys and girls learn differently are widely refuted by scientific research and we need to look more deeply at the causes of this perennial problem.

As is the case with all of the issues explored in this publication, technology can play an important role in closing the attainment gap in schools. But, it is more a question of how it can be harnessed to work cohesively and harmoniously with current best practice in teaching and learning.


  1. National Education Union Teacher Workload Survey, March 2018
  2. ‘Retaining and developing the teaching workforce’ – House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts, January 2018
  3. ‘State of Education Survey 2017’ – The Key & Ipsos
  4. ‘Education Indicators in Focus – 2012/04 (April)’ – OECD
  5. ‘Provisional GCSE and equivalent results in England, 2017 and 2018’ – DfE / National Statistics
  6. Skills for Life 2011; PIAAC 2014; National Numeracy YouGov Survey 2014
  7. ‘Why is numeracy important?’ – National Numeracy website (January 2019)
  8. ‘Artificial Intelligence: 10 Things To Know’ – InformationWeek, November 2015
  9. Full details on this research at: