Impact of Covid-19 will severely widen education gap: Education Policy Institute Chair

1 September 2020, 18:52

By Seán Hickey

The chair of the Education Policy Institute warned the widening education gap will only get worse in the wake of coronavirus if the government doesn't address it.

As news revealing that the education gap has increased by 46% this year, David Laws of the Education Policy Institute told Eddie Mair it is the result of the roll-back of policies that in the past had narrowed the gap.

"Over the last ten years or so, we had reducing levels of child poverty and fewer children living in persistent long-term poverty.

"Over the last couple of years those trends have turned round and we have more children who are persistently poor and the gaps between those persistently poor children and other pupils are very very wide," Mr Laws warned.

He went on to tell Eddie that past governments had "a tendency to shift funding to those schools with the highest levels of disadvantage," which greatly reduced education disparities.

"That attempt to narrow the education funding gap came to a halt around 2016/17," he noted, that led to new funding policies which sent the narrowing gap "directly the opposite direction."

David Laws warned that the education gap will widen without government intervention
David Laws warned that the education gap will widen without government intervention. Picture: PA

Eddie wondered "what's going to happen to the gap...when the economic impact of Covid, already severe, becomes clear in the unemployment figures."

Mr Laws warned that "the more children that we have in poverty and the more we have in persistent long term poverty, the bigger this problem of the gap gets."

"Economic changes and the increase in poverty would certainly drive the disadvantage gap upwards."

"It's going to be very challenging for us as a country for us to avoid this problem of social mobility getting worse over the next few years," he said.

The chair of the Education Policy Institute believes there must be "a much more focused set of policies...if we want to stop these gaps from widening further."

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