Interview - Natalie Perera

Executive director and head of research a CentreForum

What did you set out to do in CentreForum’s Education in England Annual Report 2016?

Our aim was to shed light on how far the country is from a world-class standard, looking particularly at variations at different stages of education, between different groups of pupils and across areas in England.

What changed between 2014 and 2015 in terms of the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP)?

The national results show a considerable increase in the proportion of children achieving a good level of development in 2015, increasing to 67.2 per cent from 62.1 per cent in 2014. We find a clear north-south divide. In the South East, 71.9 per cent of pupils achieved a good level of development in 2015, compared with 64 per cent in the North East. In fact, fewer children achieve a good level of development at age five as you travel from the south to the north of the country.

How did disadvantaged children perform in the early years, compared with older groups?

The gap between disadvantaged children and the rest narrowed by 0.3 months between 2014 and 2015. Over the last decade it narrowed by a total of 1.2 months, or 22 per cent. In the last decade, the gap also closed by 22 per cent in Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2. In Key Stage 4, the gap closed by 12 per cent. The early years gap has been closing in line with the rest of primary. The majority of the gap is a result of disadvantaged children falling behind in the early years and during Key Stage 1 – indicating that there needs to be a greater focus in both of these phases.

What were your findings in relation to the performance of children with different ethnic backgrounds?

In the early years, white British children rank third compared with other ethnic groups – the top two ethnicities are mixed white and Asian and Asian/Indian. Seventy per cent of white British children achieved a ‘good level of development’, compared with 73 and 72 per cent for the other two ethnicities respectively. That pattern changes significantly in secondary school. We found that, in 2015, white British pupils ranked 13th compared with other ethnicities. There is some research, by Steve Strand, suggesting that time spent completing homework, how well pupils believe they can achieve, and aspirations, play a key role in explaining differences. CentreForum will be doing further work on this complex and important issue.

What is the outlook?

Addressing the disadvantage gap in the early years is vital. Primary schools will need to focus on early identification and intervention to support those children. What happens in the home is also important. CentreForum will, over the coming months, be looking at this issue further to understand the causes of underperformance among certain ethnic and vulnerable children.

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