Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:
“The ONS’s study on social mobility for school students who had Free School Meals must be a wakeup call to Government.
“The fact that at age 25 years, just 23.0% of FSM recipients who attended school in England had earnings abovethe Living Wage compared to 43.5% of those that didn’t, is a clear indication that Government has so far failed to achieve any ambitions to ‘level up’. This report calls out for urgent action.
“The survey also shows female FSM recipients face a double hit with just 18% of females who received free school meals earning above the Living Wage, whilst 27% of males did so.
“Further, significant regional variation was also found in the North-East: only 20% of former pupils who received free school meals earning above the Living Wage.
“Worryingly the report also showed that 29% of FSM recipients had no earnings recorded at 25 years, compared with 15% of former pupils who did not receive free school meals.
“The report says that of those with no earnings, “It is possible that they are still on a payroll system but not actively working for a company, for example because they recently left a job, are taking unpaid leave, or are employed on a zero hours contract.”
“It is high time the unacceptable employment practice of zero hours contracts is ended.
“The prospects of disadvantaged pupils have been ignored for too long. Over the last decade the Government has made education more difficult for these pupils through cuts to benefits, the bedroom tax, and disproportionally high cuts to funding for schools serving the most deprived.
“Class sizes in primary schools are at the highest this century and class sizes in secondary schools are at their highest since records began in 1978. Secondary schools with more disadvantaged pupils used to have slightly smaller class sizes than those serving the least deprived, but over the last five years that small mitigation for disadvantaged pupils has been removed.
“The pandemic has further exacerbated this disparity as pupils receiving free school meals have in general suffered greater disruption to their education.
“The Government must restore funding to all schools to at least the level of 2015-16, invest heavily in education catch-up and as a minimum first step restore the £20 a week cut from Universal Credit in October.”
Russell Hobby, CEO of Teach First, said:
“The ONS report on earnings outcomes is a stark reminder of the disadvantages that pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) face in this country. It cannot be fair that less than one in four (23%) of FSM recipients in England earn more than the Living Wage by the age of 25, compared to more than four in 10 (43.5%) of their wealthier peers.
“The fact the figures are even worse in areas such as the North East, where fewer than one in five (19.9%) of FSM recipients earn more than the Living Wage by 25, further highlights how much more we must do to level up education and improve social mobility in this country.
“The long-term solution to this problem should be clear – we must improve careers education throughout the country and weight increased funding towards schools serving disadvantaged communities. If we fail to do so, inequality will remain entrenched in our education system and our economy.”
Ben Gadsby, Head of Policy and Research at youth charity Impetus said:
“It’s no surprise that today’s LEO data shows that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are only half as likely to end up earning the Living Wage at 25 as their better off peers. They are less likely to get good grades at school, and Impetus’ own research using LEO data shows that even when they do they are still 50% more likely to be out of work in early adulthood. As the government considers it’s levelling up white paper, tackling disparities like these must be the main priority.”
Impetus’ previous Youth Jobs Gap research used LEO data to explore the link between free school meals status and subsequent employment outcomes. This analysis does not include earnings or gender but does include whether people are in work at local authority area (this data only covers regions) and the levels of qualification young people achieved at age 18.