School improvement policies will not be enough to close the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils in England's schools.

Pupils from deprived areas are about as likely to attend a school rated 'satisfactory' or 'inadequate' as wealthier pupils are likely to attend a school rated 'outstanding'. It is therefore vitally important to improve the quality of schools in England.

But this report shows the government cannot rely on school improvement policies, such as academies and free schools, to narrow the education divide that exists between rich and poor pupils. Even if every pupil in the country attended an outstanding school, the achievement gap between the poorest and wealthiest pupils would only be cut by a fifth. If the education divide is to be closed, we need more focus on interventions such as one-to-one tuition and preschool programmes.

The report examines how the education system in England compares with other countries, including Finland, Canada and Korea. It finds that a large number of very low achievers is holding England back from becoming a world class system. In the world's leading systems 1 in 10 pupils fail to reach basic proficiency in reading. In England that figure is twice as high.

The report recommends a number of measures to reduce the attainment gap and promote both equity and excellence in the education system.

The report provides new data analysis on:

  • How much of the achievement gap is a result of what happens at secondary school
  • Whether 'school improvement' policies can narrow the attainment gap
  • What impact the Pupil Premium and other targeted interventions will have on the attainment gap
  • How the attainment gap can be closed using a whole-system approach