New research by the Sutton Trust charity shows that the "education gap" between disadvantaged and privileged pupils is wider in the UK than in anywhere else in the developed world. And the report suggests that children from low-income homes are more than a year behind their richer classmates when they start school at five, in a gap bigger than anywhere except the United States, writes Graeme Paton at the Telegraph.
Sir Peter Lampl, the chairman of the Sutton Trust, said the problem was likely to get worse with schools serving the poorest 20 per cent of pupils being four times more likely to be "inadequate" than those for the wealthiest 20 per cent.
"These latest international comparisons confirm that the education gaps at every stage between disadvantaged children and privileged children are greater in the UK than in other developed countries," said Lampl.
"In this country, unlike others, the educational achievement gap widens after age 11. As education is becoming increasingly important in determining prospects in adult life, these findings do not bode well for future social mobility in the UK."
The study compares the school systems of ten countries including the UK, America and Germany, using a series of indicators to assess children's education and family background.
The children of parents with degrees in Britain ranked 67 on average, while those whose mothers and fathers left school with few qualifications had an average rank of 29. This 38 point gap is significantly larger in the UK than it is in all countries other than America, which had a 46 point gap.
Researchers also analyzed the difference in standards between pupils between 11 and 16. They found that gaps in achievement in Britain became "substantially bigger" at 16 compared with 11, but it found "no evidence of this in other countries".
This warning will be food for thought for the Coalition, as it launches policies designed to tackle the problem of inequality, including the introduction of the "pupil premium" to reward schools for taking large numbers of deprived children.