Narrowing the Achievement Gap: Policy and Practice in England, 1997–2010

  • Geoff WhittyEmail author
  • Jake Anders


There have been various ‘achievement gaps’ in England over the years—significant differences in school attainment by students from different socioeconomic classes, different genders and different ethnic groups. Although Basil Bernstein, a leading English sociologist of education, argued many years ago that ‘education cannot compensate for society’, policy makers continue to believe that education and other social policies can help to equalise school performance and life chances between different social groups. This chapter describes what progress was made in narrowing the socioeconomic achievement gap in England under its New Labour government between 1997 and 2010 and assesses the research evidence on whether a wide array of national, local, institutional and ‘personalised’ interventions seem to have made a difference. It also discusses future prospects for closing the gap under the coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats that was elected in England in 2010. The chapter includes an explanation of the structure of the English schooling system.


Coalition Government Labour Government Disadvantaged Child Comparator School Free School Meal 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We would like to thank Rebecca Allen, John Jerrim, Sandra Leaton Gray, Sarah Tang, Anna Vignoles and Emma Wisby at the Institute of Education, University of London, for their help in preparing this chapter.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of EducationUniversity of LondonLondonUK

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