Action plan to tackle widening education divide as poorest Leeds youngsters fall further behind the pack

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Sub-standard housing conditions and a lack of proper nutrition are among the poverty factors fuelling a widening educational achievement gap in Leeds, a new inquiry has been told.

Leeds Council has commissioned the cross-party investigation into the links between child poverty and falling numeracy and literacy standards in the city.

It follows revelations that thousands of disadvantaged youngsters in Leeds are languishing behind their peers in basic numeracy and literacy,

The YEP reported earlier that youngsters from poorer families are EIGHT per cent behind the national target for reading, writing and maths at age 11.

Last year, 31 per cent of children in Leeds who come from poorer backgrounds achieved the target. The national figure was 39 per cent.

The first session of the scrutiny inquiry, sitting at Leeds Civic Hall heard that almost one in every four Leeds schoolchildren is living in poverty, with around 33,500 youngsters - almost a third of the total primary school cohort - eligible for free school meals. The school meals figure - often used as a measure of poverty - is “quite a bit above” the England national average, the panel heard.

Andrew Eastwood, head of learning improvement at Leeds City Council, said the stark statistics showed there were “real challenges” to deal with in narrowing the gap.

But he stressed the city works to offer “very bespoke, individualistic approaches on a school by school basis”.

“Rather than trying to tackle a global issue, or an issue across Leeds, we very much work with the schools to identify the gaps or the diffuculties within their school so we can evaluate the ways forward,” he said.

“Because to know about the data is not the way to tackle the effects in order to make a difference.

“This is not about an excuse culture for why we have not succeeded, it’s about creating a real bank of understanding so that we can make a real difference to those children and those families in those communities.”

Steve Walker, the council’s director of children’s services, said Department of Education figures had found children who are receiving free school primary meals will be almost THREE terms behind their more affluent peers by the time they finish their early years education.

“By the time they reach 14, that will be over five terms, and by 16 they will on average score 1.7 grades lower at GCSE, “he said.

“So clearly poverty has a tremendous impact on the eductaion of chiildren.

“In addition to that there will be health and other impacts on children.”