To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what assessment he has made of the analysis published as Report Card 7 on child poverty in perspective by the Unicef Innocenti Research Centre on 14 February in respect of the impact of poverty on educational attainment.
The Unicef Innocenti Report Card 7 raises some serious issues for the UK. However, it often uses data that is up to seven years old and points to the result of decades of underinvestment in children's well-being. The report provides cross-sectional data—rather than showing trends—so it does not register the very significant progress this Government have made. In 1997 this Government inherited the highest child poverty rate in Europe. Since then, we have reduced relative child poverty faster than anywhere in Europe and more than halved the absolute child poverty gap.
There is a strong correlation between income poverty, material deprivation and low educational attainment. That is why we want all children to develop to their full potential. Good quality early education benefits disadvantaged children in particular, and its positive effects on cognitive development last until at least age 10. We introduced free early education for all 3 and 4-year-olds, and will extend it further in terms of hours offered per week. Sure Start Children's Centres will offer children under 5 and their families (initially in the most disadvantaged areas) access to early learning and play alongside other health and parental support. We have also introduced, through the Childcare Act 2006, a new duty on local authorities to improve the outcomes of all under 5s, and close the gaps between those with the poorest outcomes and the rest.
We have made good progress in tackling the additional challenges that schools serving deprived communities often face. Primary schools that draw more than half their pupils from the poorest families have improved by more than double the rate of those where fewer than 1 in 10 pupils are from poor backgrounds. Secondary schools with more than half of pupils from poor backgrounds have improved nearly three times as much as those serving more affluent areas. There has also been a large reduction in the number of failing schools which, historically, have tended to be concentrated in deprived areas. The number of schools in special measures has nearly halved between 1997/98 and 2006.
To help pupils who are still not making the kind of progress we expect and who are not getting the best from their education we are launching a progression pilot which will run for two years in up to 10 local authorities to test new ways to measure, assess, report and stimulate progress for children in Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3.
Our Academies programme in England is transforming education in disadvantaged areas and offering educational opportunities to children where other intervention and improvement strategies have failed. The improvement in the percentage of pupils getting five good GCSEs including English and Maths in Academies has improved by 6.2 percentage points—six times better than the national improvement rate of one percentage point. Academies' results compare strikingly well with the poor results of their predecessor schools, with a 9.7 percentage point increase in five A*-C grades where English and Maths are included, and a 20.2 percentage point improvement overall.
As well as providing opportunities for social and cultural enrichment to disadvantaged pupils through extended schools, through the Education and Inspections Act 2006 we have introduced measures to give disadvantaged pupils fair access to good schools. And through our major Every Child Matters reforms to children's services, schools are increasingly forging strong links with other children's services. Schools are well placed to spot problems that may be affecting a child's development at an early stage and to engage other agencies as appropriate. Greater use of multi-disciplinary teams, lead professionals and information sharing is helping to identify problems as they arise, provide swift, tailored interventions and remove barriers to school achievement.