Express & Star comment: Coronavirus making our kids fall behind

If you need a good reason for getting children back into school after the coronavirus-extended break, just look at the figures charting how far some are falling behind.

Are our kids falling behind?
Are our kids falling behind?

It's been said that all are equal in the face of coronavirus, but the reality is that some are more equal than others. Previously healthy children are at far less risk of suffering serious harm than older folk.

And the initial picture is that those who are better off are at less risk than those who are disadvantaged.

But you don't need a coronavirus crisis to cause an attainment and opportunity gap between the better off and the disadvantaged in schools.

The figures from the independent think tank, the Education Policy Institute, suggest it is a deep seated problem which has not been effectively addressed.

By the time school pupils are ready to take their GCSEs, those classed as disadvantaged – it's based on eligibility for free school meals – are around 18 months behind their better-off peers, and in some places it's knocking on two years.

For instance, in Telford & Wrekin the gap is of 22 months. In Dudley it's 21 months.

These figures come from 2019, so are pre-Covid. It seems probable that the educational disruption caused by the virus will have, if anything, made the gap worse.

It's sobering to think that if the disadvantaged had attended school over the turbulent last five months, while the others stayed away and did no learning whatsoever, the attenders would still not be anywhere near catching up.

The government has talked about "levelling up" places but on the basis of these figures there is a mountain of difference in schools.

Teachers are on the front line in doing their best for their charges, from whatever background or social circumstances.

Of course being from a deprived background does not mean that a school pupil cannot shine academically, any more than being from better-off circumstances will of itself lead to a child doing well.

Yet the gap speaks for itself. Wait for the social and economic inequalities to be fixed, and you'll wait for years – or forever.

But to have any chance of finishing a journey, you have to start a journey.

Every month that that gap can be narrowed is an increment of increased opportunity.

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