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Filling a youth-shaped gap in the FE White Paper: Reducing inequalities in post-16 progression

Blog Editor, IOE Digital16 February 2021

The pupil premium is not working (part I): do not measure attainment gaps

Blog Editor, IOE Digital18 September 2018

On Saturday 8 September 2018 I gave a talk to researchED London about the pupil premium. It was too long for my 40-minute slot, and the written version is similarly far too long for one post. So I am posting my argument in three parts [pt II is here and pt III is here]. The IOE London Blog is re-posting Part 1 and recommends following the links to the other two on rebeccaallen.co.uk for the full analysis.
Every education researcher I have met shares a desire to work out how we can support students from disadvantaged backgrounds as they navigate the education system. I wrote my PhD thesis about why school admissions help middle class families get ahead. No politician is crazy enough to do anything about that; but they have been brave enough to put their money where their mouth is, using cash to try to close the attainment gap. This series of blog posts explains why I think the pupil premium hasn’t worked and why it diverts the education system away from things that might work somewhat better. I suggest it is time to re-focus our energies on constructing classrooms that give the greatest chance of success to those most likely to (more…)

Britain’s endless skills problems: why academics and policy wonks need to communicate

Blog Editor, IOE Digital23 November 2017

Francis Green. 
The OECD and the Institute for Public Policy Research came together this week to launch complementary reports on Britain’s long-term skills problem and what should be done about it. The event unfurled in august surroundings, at the offices of JP Morgan, in the old hall of what used to be the City of London School. Both reports were looking at an uphill task. Britain’s productivity has stagnated for the last decade, while wages have been coming down in real terms. Britain’s skills problems have been around for much longer. The government’s policy for addressing this is embodied in its Industrial Strategy, of which skills policy is one of ten ‘pillars’. This is where schools, FE colleges and universities come in.
The IPPR report identifies three problematic aspects of Britain’s skills system:

  • skills produced are insufficiently valued and utilised in the workplace;
  • the lack of high-quality vocational training and education provision; and
  • a failure to tackle regional and social inequalities.

It is not hard to substantiate these claims. For example, Britain has one of the most (more…)

International Women's Day: we cannot take progress for granted

Blog Editor, IOE Digital8 March 2017

Heather Joshi.
Is the glass half full or half empty? On International Women’s Day, here are some findings from our research. They point to progress, it’s true, but also to persistent inequality between men and women.
The good news is that over time the average pay gap has been reducing. For those aged under 30, it’s now narrow, thanks to the way women have increasingly been matching, if not overtaking, men in education. This progress should show through as 30-somethings get on and get older.
But that’s to come (perhaps). As for now, there remains disparity between men and women in mid life. Women of equal education and experience are not equally paid. Pay gaps become earnings gaps and across women’s lifetimes they are magnified because men work longer hours and spend more time in paid employment, with implications for pensions and the (more…)

Income distribution in times of austerity: why the cuts are likely to widen the gap

Blog Editor, IOE Digital22 July 2015

Nicola Pensiero.
Yesterday, the House of Commons passed a bill that will cut £12bn in welfare programmes. Chancellor George Osborne argues that the government has no choice but to continue reducing the budget deficit. When announcing the plan, he pointed to the unfolding Greek crisis to reinforce his idea that a country has to be in control of its own borrowing or the “borrowing takes control of the country”. The plan is expected to move Britain “from a low-wage, high-tax, high-welfare economy to the higher wage, lower tax, lower welfare country we intend to create”. Despite the proclaimed intentions, a likely consequence of these planned cuts is an increased polarisation of household incomes, as my recent research shows. (more…)

Why do grammar school systems increase inequality?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital5 June 2014

Lindsey Macmillan (IOE), Matt Dickson (University of Bath), Simon Burgess (CMPO)
The role of grammar schools is still a hotly contested topic in education policy in England. We contribute to this debate by showing that earnings inequality is higher under a selective system in which pupils are allocated to secondary schools based on their performance in tests at age 11. While selective systems have declined since their heyday in the mid-1960s, a number of areas retain a selective system and some believe that this system should again be expanded.
In our recent paper, we moved away from typical questions around grammar schools such as whether access to them is fair (it isn’t) and what the impact of grammar schools is for the marginal student (debatable), to ask about the longer term impacts of these types of systems on earnings inequality.
Using a nationally representative panel data source, Understanding Society, we considered the adult earnings distributions of over 2500 individuals born between 1961 and 1983, comparing those who grew up in an area operating a selective schooling system to those who grew up in very similar areas operating a comprehensive schooling system.
We ensure that the areas we are comparing are very similar by matching areas that are comprehensive to selective areas based on the average hourly wage, unemployment rate and proportion of private schools in both areas. The rich data source also allows us to control for things that may be driving the choice of area and the later earnings distributions, such as parental education and occupation when the individual was 14, gender, age, ethnicity and current area of residence.
We therefore compare the adult earnings of people who have very similar characteristics, live as adults in very similar areas and grew up in very similar areas: the main difference being that one area operated a selective system and the other a comprehensive system.
When we consider these two groups, then, we see that earnings inequality is greater for those who grew up in areas operating a selective system compared to those who grew up in comprehensive areas.
Comparing individuals of similar characteristics, the variance of earnings (2009-2012) for those who grew up in selective areas is £29.22 compared to £23.10 in non-selective areas. Put another way, the difference in pay between those at the 90th percentile of the wage distribution and those at the 10th percentile for those who grew up in a selective system is £13.14 an hour compared to £10.93 an hour in comprehensive systems.
On a personal level, if you grow up in a selective system and end up with earnings at the 90th percentile, you earn £1.31 more an hour (statistically significant) than the similar individual who grew up in a comprehensive system. At the other end of the scale, if you grow up in a selective system and don’t do so well – earning at the 10th percentile, you earn 90p less an hour (statistically significant) than the similar individual who grew up in a comprehensive system.
We can also compare the 90-10 wage gap between selective and non-selective areas to the overall 90-10 wage gap in the sample. As noted, in selective areas the 90-10 wage gap is £2.21 an hour higher than in comprehensive areas. This accounts for 18% of the overall 90-10 wage gap in our sample. So selective systems account for a large proportion of inequality in earnings. The message is clear. Grammar systems create winners and losers.
There are also interesting differences by gender. If we look separately at males and females, we see that males in selective systems at the top of the earnings distribution do significantly better than their non-selective counterparts (£2.25 an hour) while there is no difference for those at the bottom of the earnings distribution.
For females, the picture is the opposite. Females growing up in selective systems who do well look very similar to successful females from non-selective systems but those who do badly earn significantly less (87p an hour) than their comprehensive system counterparts. We think this could be because males were outperforming girls at school for the cohorts we consider and so more males attended grammars and more females attended secondary moderns within selective systems, although we cannot observe this directly.
What lies behind these differences? Inequality in earnings comes from inequality in qualifications and these in turn might derive from differences in peer effects and teacher effectiveness between the systems. We speculate that in the 1970s and 1980s more able teachers might have been more effectively sorted in a selective system into schools with high attaining pupils. The evidence on peer effects in the UK is mixed but the evidence on teacher effectiveness points to this as a possible key mechanism.
Whatever might be driving this phenomenon, our research shows that inequality is increased by selective schooling systems. If this is combined with evidence that sorting within selective systems is actually more about where you are from rather than your ability, then selective systems may not be the drivers of social mobility that some claim. The pros and cons of a system which creates greater inequality will doubtless continue to be passionately debated. What we cannot ignore is that there are losers as well as winners in this story.