‘Closing the Achievement Gap’ in English Cities and Towns in the Twenty-First Century

  • Geoff WhittyEmail author
  • Jake Anders
Part of the Springer International Handbooks of Education book series (SIHE)


A key focus in English work on ‘narrowing the gap’ in recent years has been persistent ‘social class’ differences in educational achievement. The policy response to these issues has frequently been targeted at schools (or groups of schools) in urban areas, given the generally higher levels of disadvantage in these locations. It is important to address the academic attainment gap in schools in that student performance during the compulsory phase of education has significant implications for access to higher education and the labour market. In this chapter we explore a number of these policies, the particular challenges about urban education they sought to address, and their successes and failures. There is a particular focus on the much-lauded ‘London Challenge’, held up as a flagship policy for driving improvements in urban areas. While there is some evidence of change as a result of this multi-faceted approach to education reform, it seems that at least some of the improvements being driven by other changes going on in London at the time, such as significant demographic shifts. We conclude that while there have been some notable policy successes, a stubborn achievement gap remains, particularly at the higher end of the attainment distribution and question the extent to which schools alone, rather than society more broadly, can be expected to close these gaps.


Achievement gap Social class Education reform Urban education 



This is an updated version of a paper first published as Whitty, G. and Anders, J. (2014) Narrowing the Achievement Gap: Policy and Practice in England 1997–2010 in J. V. Clark (Ed.) Closing the Achievement Gap: An International Perspective Dordrecht: Springer.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bath Spa UniversityBathUK
  2. 2.UCL Institute of EducationUniversity College LondonLondonUK

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