This paper presents an analysis of the extent to which poor pupils in England are clustered in schools with others like them. It is based on a segregation index of pupils eligible for free school meals for every year for which official national data is available. The trend over time has been published before up to 2019, and this paper extends the analysis to 2021, covering both the Covid-19 era so far and the beginning of transitional arrangements for Universal Credit, which have led to a substantial increase in the number of pupils eligible for free school meals. Results show that the segregation of poor pupils between secondary schools has continued to decline annually – a decline that started with the onset of Pupil Premium funding. This decline in segregation has not occurred for other possible indicators of disadvantage, such as pupils having a special educational need or disability, which are not addressed by Pupil Premium funding. Clustering disadvantaged pupils together in parts of a national school system has been linked to worse pupil outcomes overall, lower aspirations, less ethnic cohesion, and reduced trust in society by students. So, this ongoing reduction is encouraging, and is likely to lead to a lower poverty attainment gap in academic outcomes. However, the reduction in 2020 and 2021 is “false” to some extent, based mostly on a sudden increase in the number of pupils officially classed as poor, rather than an improvement in their distribution or evenness. It is, therefore, important to retain Pupil Premium funding or something like it for the time being to see what happens to the attainment gap. And the apparent success of this funding scheme could have implications for school systems worldwide that value fairness in the provision of national opportunities for education.
Gorard, S. (2023). The pattern of socio-economic segregation between schools in England 1989 to 2021: the Pupil Premium, Universal Credit, and Covid-19 eras. Research in Education, 116(1), 111-123. https://doi.org/10.1177/00345237231179854