46.Evidence led us to the role of place and geographic inequalities as a possible cause of the attainment gap for disadvantaged White pupils. Dr Javed Khan told us that “Geography clearly has an impact, too. The evidence shows, for example, that white pupils in the north-east have some of the worst educational outcomes, yet pupils from all backgrounds in places like London do better, irrespective of their race”.
47.The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that the United Kingdom is among the “most geographically unequal countries in the developed world”. The IFS said that there is no “single set of factors that characterise a ‘left-behind’ place”, something that we also heard from the Local Trust and their work on a Community Needs Index. Economic deprivation is one measure, but there are others. These include low levels of social capital. For example, high levels of unemployment and low adult qualifications, and community cohesion in areas lacking “places to meet, an active community and connectivity [to] both transport and digital access to economic opportunities in the wider geography”. This is in contrast to what we heard about ethnic minority populations, who often have more support from “extended family structures and the sense of community and religion”.
48.Evidence highlighted the difficulty of analysing geographical differences in attainment broken down by ethnicity and FSM status. Liverpool City Region Combined Authority said that the way in which the Department publishes data makes it challenging to “ … assess the achievement of different ethnic demographics of pupils that are eligible for FSM, or find consistent filters”. Dr Alex Gibson and Professor Sheena Asthana, of the University of Plymouth, said that ethnic groups are “distributed unevenly across the country” so the Department’s “highly aggregated” data is “no use” in teasing out geographic factors. The Department’s data is often not available below the national level when broken down by ethnicity and FSM-eligibility. Nevertheless, it is possible to form a picture of differences in pupil population and educational attainment.
49.The two cartograms below illustrate:
i)Firstly, the extent to which ethnic diversity is concentrated in certain areas of the country, particularly around London and urban centres
ii)Secondly, the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers by geographic area. This shows that disadvantaged pupils in London have more similar outcomes to their peers than pupils in other areas of the country, including areas that are proportionately more White:
50.The Office for Students (OfS) have analysed statistics on access to higher education on a regional level, although not by specific ethnic group. The OfS explains that for “white students who receive free school meals in London, the entry rate has pulled away from that in other parts of the country, and is now nearly eight percentage points higher than any other region. In London, less than half of the population is white, compared with 80 per cent across England as a whole”.
51.Geographic disparities also affect children from ethnic minorities who live in left-behind areas. That said, the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities found that geographic inequality is “in simple numerical terms” an “overwhelmingly White British problem”. The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities acknowledged that ethnic minorities are more likely to live in poverty, however “it is the poorer White people, outside London, who are the largest group to be found in areas with multidimensional disadvantages, from income to longevity of life”. For example, the report found that “Nearly 70% of all the social mobility ‘hotspot’ success stories are in London and the South East”, while there “are none in the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber, and the West Midlands”. In terms of IDACI scores, “The worst 5 areas with IDACI scores of around 30% are all overwhelmingly White British places: Middlesbrough, Blackpool, Knowsley, Liverpool and Hull”.
52.Professor Sheena Asthana and Dr Alex Gibson point out that there are challenges for “disadvantaged coastal children, the majority of whom are ethnically white”, including a limited range of employment opportunities, “growing rates of deprivation”, “higher than average proportions of working age adults with low or no qualifications”, and “poor educational outcomes”.
53.The Kings Fund cited research that the London Challenge was a contributory factor to the “dramatic improvement” of London schools between 2000 and 2014. This improvement was welcome and shows the potential of targeting interventions to a specific area. According to the 2011 census, “58.4% of Black people, 35.9% of Asian people, 33.1% of people with Mixed ethnicity, and 49.9% of people from the Other ethnic group” lived in London, compared with 10.1% of white people. This means that the success of this initiative likely had much less impact on attainment gaps for all poor white children than for all children from ethnic minorities, as White children are proportionally less likely to live in London. We agree with the New Schools Network (NSN), who explain that “there is no singular national solution to the issue of low attainment for disadvantaged White children: we need to find an answer that works for the particular context of each local community and region”.
54.We also note the Office for National Statistics’ recent work on local income deprivation, which found that “every local area has its own unique profile of income disparity”. As Dr Alex Gibson of the University of Plymouth told us, the National Pupil Database has data according to the Lower Layer Super Output Area (LSOA), which looks at specific neighbourhoods, and we heard from the Local Trust that “the most meaningful geography at which to consider the issue is, in our view, the neighbourhood–communities of 3,000–10,000 people”. The Department’s statistics should reflect the most nuanced picture of geographical variation in attainment possible. Without more detailed data on education we are not sure that geography is the only cause of the attainment gap between disadvantaged White pupils and their peers. Yet we do believe that it is time to eliminate geographic discrepancies in attainment for disadvantaged pupils. We hope that tackling this will give disadvantaged White pupils a fairer chance regardless of where they were born.
55.This Government has frequently referred to a focus on “levelling up” and supporting “left-behind” areas. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies explains, the focus on levelling up is not new, and the UK is currently “one of the most geographically unequal countries in the developed world”. Previous governments have had a similar focus, with initiatives including the Industrial Strategy (2016) and the Towns Fund (2019). The Government’s has set out a programme of policies in its Build Back Better Plan. The Industrial Strategy Council assessed this plan in their 2021 Annual Report, and criticised the plan’s over-reliance on “infrastructure spending and the continued use of centrally controlled funding pots thinly spread across a range of initiatives”. The report says that “Sustained local growth needs to be rooted in local strategies, covering … skills, sectors, education and culture”. The Department has since published a Skills for Jobs White Paper, and more recently the Government has bought out a Skills and Post-16 Education Bill. The Bill includes a clause on Local Skills Improvement Plans, to introduce “duties on providers to co-operate with designated employer representative bodies to develop local skills improvement plans and have regard to the plans once they have been developed”.
56.Dr Alex Gibson said that while schools are central to raising attainment, pupils make “decisions in the context of their environments” and there is a wider issue about “providing the opportunities locally for children to benefit from school education”. The Local Trust recommended investing in “left behind” neighbourhoods as an effective way to benefit disadvantaged White pupils. They suggested using a Community Wealth Fund to invest in social and civic infrastructure in deprived neighbourhoods, and using the Town Deals and UK Shared Prosperity Fund to connect underachieving pupils to training and jobs. The Community Wealth Fund would use a “new wave of unclaimed assets - from bonds, shares, pension funds and insurance policies” that could be “worth up to £2 billion”. These recommendations will benefit disadvantaged White pupils, but they do not always fit into the Department’s remit. The Department must work with other parts of Government to ensure that outcomes for children are central to any work on equalising opportunities throughout the country, particularly with regard to redressing the imbalance of investment and attention between urban centres (most notably London) and other parts of the country. As the Social Mobility Commission said, we need “a co-ordinated strategy across Government departments to tackle root causes”, with a more “systematic approach”.
57.The Government has committed to ‘levelling up’, but there remain stark differences in educational outcomes in different parts of the country, which seem likely to be exacerbated by the differential impact of covid-19. Education is a part of a larger whole with regard to geographic inequalities. Without improvements to local job markets and infrastructure (including digital infrastructure), education faces an uphill battle to raise outcomes for disadvantaged White pupils in left-behind areas. Equally, creating opportunities is of limited use if education has not equipped local people with the skills to fill them.
58.The Department for Education must make itself central to levelling-up, and ensure that a focus on improving outcomes for children of all ages is a key part of any Government initiative to equalise opportunity and productivity across the country. Publishing all data on attainment measures on as localised a basis as possible, including by neighbourhood, will be the beginning of demonstrating a commitment to levelling-up education by identifying specific communities that are struggling. The Department must co-ordinate its efforts with wider Government in a comprehensive strategy to tackle the root causes of underachievement.
59.The Minister for Universities, Michelle Donelan MP, told us that Opportunity Areas (OAs) are part of the Department for Education’s contribution to the Government’s levelling up work. She explained that OAs are “taking a place-based approach to achieving lasting culture and system change”, and they are designed to respond to “specific local context”. The Minister highlighted four “elements”, including improving teaching quality and support for early years provision (together these account for around 60% of total funding for OAs), supporting projects on mental health and school attendance, and sharing learning from OAs with areas facing “similar challenges”. There are 12 Opportunity Areas based on local authority districts (LADs), which were announced in 2016. The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities found that 10 of these OAs are “overwhelmingly White places”.
60.The Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP) described the evaluation process of OAs, which has three phases. The results of a national qualitative evaluation are expected in Spring 2022. The NPP found that “Early years outcomes for pupils have improved in 9 out of 12 OAs”, and “phonics results for all pupils have increased in 10 out of 12 OAs”. In 10 OAs, “Key Stage 2 combined attainment data for all pupils has increased by more than the national rate between 2016 and 2019”.
61.We are not convinced that the evidence the Department has presented so far justifies the investment that has been made in Opportunity Areas. Our predecessor Committee had concerns about the value for money of the OA programme when it was first begun, and given that the programme has now received £108 million of investment we are disappointed that there are not more tangible benefits that the Department can indicate to us.
62.During evidence sessions, the previous House of Commons Education Select Committee heard that a key feature of OAs was their “convening power”, and bought a “sense of coming together, of collaboration”. Our predecessor Committee was concerned about the effectiveness of OAs, and whether these activities represented value for money. A letter to the then Secretary of State for Education, Rt Hon Damian Hinds MP, highlighted concerns around the selection of OAs, with some parts of the country receiving no additional support and a lack of joined-up working in Government.
63.More recently, Martyn Oliver, a Commissioner for the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, said that it would be useful for a level of “micro-analysis of data to become the norm”, with funding micro-targeted to individual schools that need support rather than large areas. The NPP also said that OAs could be improved, through increasing their coverage while reducing the size of each individual project and introducing more local leadership. Nesta said that OAs have had “some degree of early stage success”, but that “putting so many resources into one area and picking an arbitrary number of places to try and help is not a long-term or sustainable model”. We agree that the money invested to date in OAs could have been better spent if it were “micro-targeted” to specific areas of need.
64.In May 2021 the Government announced a fifth year of the OA programme. The Department is spending an additional £18 million on the programme, with the 12 OAs twinning with areas experiencing “similar challenges”.
65.We need a better solution to geographic disparities in education. The Government must acknowledge the diversity of challenges facing disadvantaged White communities and develop better ways to target support. We understand that Opportunity Areas are a relatively recent policy and it is difficult to evaluate them. We heard evidence about initial success, but we remain concerned about their value for money.
66.We were disappointed that the Department is investing another £18 million in a policy which is reaching limited numbers of pupils and seems to be generating little return on investment. We urge the Department to set out a clear methodology to define what the programme’s success criteria are. These should emphasise that the funding is not to be spent on “convene-itis” and discussion, but should go to frontline services, using statistics to micro-target struggling communities, with explicit targets for:
i)Improving support for families, through targeting Family Hubs to deprived communities and closing the early years attainment gap
ii)Focussing resource to schools that most need it, through a better measure of disadvantage and funding that is micro-targeted to areas of need
iii)Channelling funding to schools that struggle to recruit and retain the best staff, through more local teacher training initiatives
iv)Ensuring all pupils get the best careers advice, particularly in areas where varied career options are less visible
67.The Department’s evidence emphasises how free schools can raise attainment, and as the New Schools Network pointed out, some free schools perform highly and deliver excellent results for largely disadvantaged White cohorts. However, research from the EPI found an imbalance in the free school programme, saying that 48% of secondary free school pupils are drawn from “just 3 of 24 ‘types’ of local community (as classified by the Office for National Statistics)”. The EPI said that those three areas are inner city cosmopolitan, urban cultural mix and young ethnic communities, whereas hampered neighbourhoods and challenged White communities are “considerably under-served by free schools”.
68.We are concerned that the Department has not been proactive enough in directing the free schools programme to date, resulting in free schools being established in areas with lower need for them. As the NSN calls for, the Government must do more to encourage free schools in disadvantaged White areas. This could be through targeting funding to disadvantaged areas and making the application process less prescriptive and more open to community organisations (rather than existing trusts).
69.The free school system has failed to place new schools in areas of highest need and so has failed to reach left behind pupils, and should be encouraged in areas of disadvantage or deprivation.
70.The Department must take a more proactive role in directing the evolution of free schools. It is not enough to suppose that disadvantaged White communities in left-behind areas will have the same resources as inner-city areas to create their own outstanding schools. All future free schools must be established in areas where they will bring a specific benefit to the local community, and the Department should ensure there is a clear focus on targeting disadvantaged areas and should proactively encourage free schools in areas such as ‘challenged white communities’.
94 Dr Javed Khan
95 Institute of Fiscal Studies, , 2 October 2020, p315
96 The Local Trust ()
97 The Local Trust ()
98 Ruth Robinson
99 Liverpool City Region Combined Authority ()
100 Dr Alex Gibson and Professor Sheena Asthana ()
101 Office for Students, , 26 January 2021
102 Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, , March 2021, p37
103 Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, , March 2021, pp38–39
104 It is time to learn the lessons of educational reform in London and adapt and apply them to all of the UK. In London, according to the Educational Trust, “the educational performance of all major ethnic groups in inner London improved between 2005 and 2013 at a greater rate than those elsewhere in the country”. They do not attribute this to differential treatment of different ethnic groups or larger number of pupils from different groups but to better resourcing of teachers, schools and school buildings. According to a report on school improvement in London: “The conclusion from our research was that the improved performance of London schools could not easily be explained in terms of external factors such as ethnicity or resources. Instead, we concluded that the internal effectiveness of schools had changed for the better and we identified four key school improvement interventions that provided the impetus for improvement.” These were: “a government-funded programme known as London Challenge, improved support from some local authorities, new forms of school governance made possible through the government’s academies programme, the Teach First programme, which brought talented and idealistic new teachers into many schools serving disadvantaged communities.” (Source: Education Development Trust, by Tony McAleavy and Alex Elwick, )
105 Dr Alex Gibson and Professor Sheena Asthana ()
106 The Kings Fund, , accessed 21 April 2021
107 GOV.UK, , 7 August 2020
108 New Schools Network ()
109 Office for National Statistics, , 24 May 2021
110 According to the NHS, lower layer super output areas are a “geographic hierarchy designed to improve the reporting of small area statistics in England and Wales”. There is a LSOA for each postcode, and the minimum population is 1,000. See: NHS Data Model and Dictionary, , accessed 28 May 2021
111 Dr Alex Gibson
112 The Local Trust ()
113 IFS, , 2 October 2020
114 The Social Mobility Commission, , 15 September 2020, p8
115 HM Treasury, , 3 March 2021
116 Industrial Strategy Council, , March 2021, p6
117 (HL Bill 5-EN)
118 The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill describes “relevant providers” as those that provide “post-16 technical education or training”. See
119 Dr Alex Gibson
120 The Local Trust ()
121 The Local Trust, , see Summary, 6 August 2018
122 Social Mobility Commission ()
123 Education Committee, , March 2021
124 GOV.UK, , 2017
125 Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, , March 2021, p39
126 The Northern Powerhouse Partnership ()
127 The Northern Powerhouse Partnership ()
128 Department for Education, , 19 May 2021
129 Education Committee 2017–19, Opportunity Areas inquiry, Graham Cowley, Chair, Blackpool Opportunity Area Partnership Board
130 Education Committee 2017–19, Opportunity Areas inquiry, Graham Cowley, Chair, Blackpool Opportunity Area Partnership Board
131 Education Committee 2017–19, , 16 July 2019
132 Martyn Oliver
133 The Northern Powerhouse Partnership ()
134 Nesta ()
135 Department for Education, , 19 May 2021
136 The Department for Education ()
137 New Schools Network ()
138 Education Policy Institute, , October 2019
139 The Office for National Statistics created ‘pen portraits’ based on the 2011 Area Classification for Local Authorities, “providing an informal view of the characteristics of each cluster”. Challenged White communities are part of the “Hard-pressed communities” group, representing 5.7% of the UK’s population. Hard pressed communities tend to be in current or former industrial areas, with below average ethnic mix and higher than average rates of divorce and separation and below average rates of persons aged over 16 with higher qualifications. Unemployment rates are higher than the national average. See: Office for National Statistics, , 24 July 2018
140 New Schools Network ()