Tackling out-of-school educational inequality

Using Edplus technology to close the attainment gap.

The attainment gap

On their first day at school, aged 4 or 5, the odds are already stacked against disadvantaged children in the UK. When they start primary education, children eligible for free school meals lag 11 months behind their better-off peers in terms of attainment.

This substantial gap widens at every subsequent stage of education. By age eleven, fewer than half of these pupils (46%) reach the standards expected for reading, writing and mathematics, compared to 68 per cent of all other pupils (Social Mobility Commission). By the time they leave school, the attainment gap reaches 19.3 months (Educational Endowment Foundation, EEF, “The Attainment Gap”).

Nationally, disadvantaged pupils lag behind the average by around half a grade per subject. But these figures conceal even starker inequalities between different parts of the country and demographic groups. A majority of British 19-year-olds who have been eligible for free school meals leave school without recognised qualifications in either English or Maths. This can and does have a terrible effect on their opportunities in life.

It is clearly wrong that educational outcomes should be so closely and negatively linked to disadvantage. The most vulnerable individuals are not getting a fair chance to reach their potential. Educational inequality is bad for children, bad for the economy and bad for our society. So, what can be done?

Are schools to blame?

Schools are at the front line of the effort to close the attainment gap. But we’re mistaken if we lay all the burden on educational institutions. It’s not just about school. In fact, research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that only 14% of educational inequality can be accounted for by school quality. Findings from the EEF, cited above, show that schools with better ratings do not tend to lower the gap in achievement between less advantaged children and the rest. Instead, inspection outcomes largely reflect the socio-economic makeup of a cohort.

Out-of-school learning

The importance of what happens outside the classroom is becoming increasingly evident. There is a growing body of research worldwide which indicates that how our children spend their time after the school bell rings is vital to determining their educational outcomes.

According to research in the United States, middle class parents in the US spend 7 times as much as those from poor backgrounds on out-of-school enrichment activities. This trend is replicated across wealthy countries (OECD 2018).

Better-off parents also spend significantly more time helping with and supervising homework. Where disadvantaged children tend to spend more time watching television and engaged in unsupervised play, their middle-class peers are ferried from music to drama to sports to learning support. Unsurprisingly, the phenomenon of summer learning (and especially literacy) loss is more acute in lower socio-economic brackets.

And there are many reasons why this is so — poorer parents often lack the time, money, education or expectations of more affluent parents.

Interestingly, there is evidence indicating that even among those growing up in poverty, educational inequality depends on how students spend their out-of-school time. An Irish government-sponsored review found that there is a weaker relationship between poverty and adverse educational outcomes in disadvantaged rural schools than in equivalent urban ones. This has been attributed to differential levels of home support available to rural students and the contrast in the ways urban and rural students spend their out-of-school time.

Parental engagement is all very well, but for those on low incomes — struggling to make ends meet, working long hours or perhaps facing their own issues with numeracy and literacy — helping with their children’s education after school can be especially difficult.

UK government proposals

The UK government recognises the challenge posed by out-of-school educational inequality and claims it wants action. In a speech to the Resolution Foundation in July 2018, the Education Secretary Damian Hinds set out the government’s proposals for improving attainment of the country’s poorest children. In particular, he called on the tech sector to assume its share of responsibility.

Tech sector contribution

At Edplus, our objective is to be a part of the solution.

Our mission is to make out-of-school learning easier for parents and more fun for children. Regardless of where they live, or what their socio-economic circumstances are.

Our apps have been designed to be more fun for children than standard homework assignments — and better at competing with online games and videos. The Edplus algorithm intelligently selects the most appropriate questions on which to test children. Crucially, if they get stuck, the virtual-tutor offers children helpful hints to guide them towards the correct answer, like a parent would do.

Of course, there is no substitute for the engagement of real parents in their children’s education. With Edplus, parents can stay closely involved in their children’s personal learning journey through our interactive dashboard and progress reports, even if they can’t always be there in person.

We know that early intervention is vital to address learning inequalities. As we’ve seen, the attainment gap is present from day one, and keeps widening. Higher performing pupils don’t wait around for their disadvantaged peers to catch up. Because of this, Edplus is aimed at children age 5–6 and upwards.

Throughout their primary school years, Edplus aims to help all children achieve their potential.

Edplus apps are available to anyone with access to a smartphone or mobile device and internet connection, at home, in the library or in after-school number clubs.

Our apps offer times tables for everyone, for free, forever.