A ‘PERVASIVE’ rift between Oxfordshire’s rich and poor has seen disadvantaged pupils fall further behind their peers than in most other places in England.

A new report has found the county had one of the widest attainment gaps in the country 2018, when results of disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils were compared.

Pupils eligible for free meals at primary school – those whose families claim certain benefits – failed to catch up right from early years testing to GCSEs.

The report by Oxfordshire County Council said the gap at Key Stage 1 decreased nationally from 2017 to 2018, with 51 per cent of disadvantaged pupils reaching the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, but widened in Oxfordshire, with that percentage falling to 41.

At Key Stage 2 SATs, the report said Oxfordshire ranked joint fifth lowest of 152 local authorities for performance of disadvantaged pupils.

ALSO READ: Oxford University 'should add' new colleges for disadvantaged students

Sir Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation – a charity committed to improving attainment of poor pupils – said the county council was right to highlight the ‘widening and pervasive attainment gap.’

He told the Oxford Times: “Differences in school achievement act as a block on social mobility and have real consequences for life chances.

“If we don’t take action to close these attainment gaps now, we risk deepening the social mobility divide.

“While the link between family income and learning is clear-cut and hard to break, it is not inevitable.”

He said looking at what has worked in the past was ‘the key to closing the attainment gap’.

One of the best-performing schools in Oxfordshire for progress of disadvantaged children is Church Cowley St James CE Primary School in Oxford.

Almost half of its cohort of Year 6 children last year were classed as disadvantaged, yet progress for pupils is among the best in the county.

Its headteacher Steve Dew said: “In Oxford in particular, the social divide between those that have [a disadvantage] and those that don’t are often huge.

“Children often start our school already a long way behind their peers.

“Their poverty of finance they have been born into is sadly often matched by a poverty of experience, poverty of language, poverty of access to books, cultural capital and good quality teaching experiences.

“These children are equally as capable of great things as any of their peers, rich or poor.”

He said schools have a ‘moral imperative’ to ensure those children get the best opportunities to progress.

Mr Dew added: “Our school thrives on the strength of human relationships, the strength of humanity and a dash of morality – leaving it to chance is not good enough to ensure the life chances of society’s most vulnerable.”

ALSO READ: Cowley school is like an 'educational Disneyland'

He stressed that there is no ‘silver bullet’ solution to bridging the gap, but that the school’s ethos was to get to know children and their families and understand how best to teach them.

Another Cowley school, Our Lady’s Roman Catholic Primary School, boasted ‘well above average’ SATs scores last year across all three subjects – one of just two Oxfordshire schools to achieve this, according to the government’s school comparison website.

Headteacher Tara Davies said the school tracks disadvantaged pupils’ progress and personal development through ‘personal profiles’, and enriches the curriculum with school clubs and trips.

She said: “There is a very little gap between our disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged children.

“We believe there is nothing better than all children actively experiencing our local and national environment for themselves.

“It is important that disadvantaged children are not left behind because they are equally entitled to move on to secondary and higher education, having achieved their full potential in line with their age expectations.”

Matthew Watt, principal of Tyndale Community School – also in Cowley – said their approach was to use pupil premium funding efficiently to go ‘above and beyond’.

He said the school’s pastoral team was key in providing emotional support for children, and that the school also offers courses and one-to-one meetings to help parents.

However, he said the loss of children’s centres and early intervention hubs has made it ‘increasingly difficult to close the gap for disadvantaged pupils’.

Mr Watt added: “The gap widens if we wait until its too late [in a child’s life].

“More support for children and families in those early years is essential for us to even hint at the fact that we are taking this seriously.”

Also among the best-performing schools in a traditionally more deprived area is Wood Farm Primary School in Oxford, whose disadvantaged pupils have outperformed national results for non-disadvantaged pupils for the past three years.

ALSO READ: Schools in Oxfordshire told to do more to help disadvantaged pupils

Headteacher David Lewin said: “The challenges disadvantaged children face in school is complex, but we are very proud of our outcomes.

“Wood Farm has a significant number of children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, so it’s something we have given a lot of thought and attention to.

“It starts with making everybody in the school aware of who those children are and what particular needs they might have.

“We use our pupil premium funding in very focused ways to employ extra staff and tutor children, and provide cultural experiences that they might otherwise miss out on.

“It’s about having a level of focus, attention and determination. It takes very careful planning, provision and absolute conviction that that gap can be closed.”

Among organisations working to tackle the city’s town and gown divide is IntoUniversity in Blackbird Leys, part of a national charity that helps disadvantaged youngsters to access higher education.

Its aim in Oxford is to work with Oxford University and Christ Church college to tackle educational inequality in the Leys, through a programme of support, activities and mentoring.

IntoUniversity’s chief executive and founder Rachel Carr said it is crucial that students from disadvantaged backgrounds ‘do not get left behind’.

She said: “Addressing the achievement gap is not a quick fix.

“With sustained interventions and support our talented young people will reach their educational potential.”

Dr Carr said in 2018, 66 per cent of students on its Oxford programme progressed to university, compared to the local average of 14 per cent.