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Let’s start with the bad news – it is no secret that by international standards the UK scores pretty badly for social mobility; where you are born still largely determines where you will end up. The good news is that leading politicians of every stripe recognise this for the scandal that it is and have expressed determination in doing something about it; in some respects it has been the buzzword of this Parliament. And yet still we languish at the bottom of the league tables.

In Save the Children’s latest report – Too Young to Fail – we find that the poorest children’s life chances are all but determined by the age of seven. Of the gap in achievement between poorer children and their better off peers at age sixteen, 80 per cent of that is already established before they’ve reached their seventh birthday.

Or to put it another way – if you are behind at age seven you have only a one in six chance of catching up to achieve five good GCSEs including English and Maths by the time you are sixteen, what Michael Gove described as “The basics that you need if you’re going to go on to get a job, let alone go to college… the future we would all want for our children.”

This is a problem, and not just for the poor kids behind the stats. This matters to us all. New modelling undertaken for this report estimates that this level of wasted potential costs our economy billions of pounds a year. It finds that if the UK had in recent years taken action to ensure that no child was behind by the end of primary school, our economy could have been around £30billion better-off by 2020.

Of course it is important to acknowledge that a lot has been done by this Government. The gap between numbers of poorer and better-off children achieving any good GCSEs at all has all but disappeared over recent years and that is clearly welcome. But really, what comfort is that when you qualify that measure to include English and Maths – then we find that the situation is still dire for the UK’s poorest children.

Given what we know – that so much is determined in the crucial earlier years – it seems clear that we must reassess the way we think about schooling and refocus our thinking about children in the primary years.

In our report, we make a few suggestions, not least of which is a new ‘fair chances premium’ for 5-7 year olds, similar to the current ‘catch-up premium’ – additional money for each child who fails to achieve the expected levels upon entering secondary school.

In the longer term, another option is to look at how we might rebalance funding to ‘frontload’ school spending in the primary years: In England last year, per-pupil spending in secondary schools was over £5,300. In primary schools it was over £1000 less. As the government is in the midst of a school funding review; this moment of transition could be a good opportunity to reassess priorities. In addition, there is currently a pot of money within the schools budget that is linked to deprivation but not specially targeted at deprived pupils. By shifting that money into an explicit pupil premium, we could achieve a £3-4,000 boost for the poorest pupils.

Over the next couple of years, we will be ramping up our work on this issue. This week, we launched Born to Read in collaboration with Beanstalk, to assist primary-school children who are falling behind in their reading and enable them to catch up. We know that reading is just one of the crucial skills that a child needs and this is just one aspect of our work to ensure that all UK children are able to thrive.

Jamilla Hinds-Brough is the Parliamentary and Advocacy Officer for the UK Poverty Team at Save The Children.

Follow Jamilla on Twitter.

Views held by contributors are not necessarily those of Bright Blue, as good as they often are.

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