Whether learners are successful in school or at risk of early leaving is largely dependent on their socio-economic status (SES). The effects of socio-economic status are clearly present in all of Europe’s education and training systems. Children from lower socio-economic backgrounds are less likely to participate in and benefit from early childhood education and care (ECEC) than children from more advantaged backgrounds. The initial disadvantage can be exacerbated throughout the school years if additional support is not provided to help children close educational gaps. Equal participation in quality ECEC is however found to be among the most effective approaches to combatting socio-economic inequalities in educational achievement.
The OECD’s PISA results show unambiguously that parental socio-economic background is a key determinant of achievement in basic math and language skills. For example, the largest share of learners below the minimum proficiency standard for mathematics is in the bottom quarter of the socio-economic index.
The influence of socio-economic status, family background and the home learning environment persists from one generation to the next. A strong inter-generational effect on educational attainment can be seen as a failure of the education and training system to effectively maximise student opportunities for all. In this context, family learning is a way to reverse this long-standing association.
Strategies to tackle the achievement gap may include a range of measures, from eliminating socio-economic segregation between and within schools, postponing educational tracking, extending learning opportunities within and beyond the school, and welcoming and supporting parental involvement from the earliest stages of education onwards.
However, a first step to ensuring equal access and opportunity for learning is to provide these learners with material and/or financial support to regularly attend school, including: free transport, books, accommodation or scholarships for older learners and childcare opportunities for teenage mothers. Free meals, even outside the regular school meal programmes, combined with additional learning activities may also provide the right support for children from a low socio-economic background.
Find out more:
European Commission, Education and Training Monitor 2015, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.
European Commission Joint Research Centre, Reading Literacy in EU Countries: Evidence from PIRLS, JRC Scientific and Policy Reports, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2013.
Heckman, J.J., ‘Invest in early childhood development: Reduce deficits, strengthen the economy’, The Heckman Equation, National Institute for Early Childhood Education Research, New Brunswick, NJ, 2012.
Lavrijsen, J. and Nicais, I., Educational tracking, inequality and performance. New evidence using differences-in-differences, VFO-SSL, Leuven, 2014.
OECD, Low-Performing Students: Why They Fall Behind and How to Help Them Succeed, OECD, Paris, 2016.
OECD, Equations and Inequalities, Making Mathematics Accessible to All, OECD, Paris, 2016.
OECD, Starting Strong IV: Monitoring Quality in Early Childhood Education and Care, OECD, Paris, 2015.
OECD, PISA 2012 Results: Excellence through Equity, Giving Every Student the Chance to Succeed, Volume II, OECD, Paris, 2013 .
OECD, Equity and Quality in Education: Supporting Disadvantaged Students and Schools, OECD, Paris, 2012.