Research Paper 46: (How) did New Labour narrow the achievement and participation gap?


Geoff Whitty and Jake Anders


There have been various ‘achievement gaps’ in England over the years – significant differences in school attainment by students from different socio-economic classes, different genders and different ethnic groups. Although Basil Bernstein, a leading English sociologist of education, argued many years ago that ‘education cannot compensate for society’, policy makers continue to believe that education and other social policies can help to equalise school performance and life chances between different social groups. This paper describes what progress was made in narrowing the socio-economic achievement gap in England under its New Labour government between 1997 and 2010 and assesses the research evidence about which of a whole array of national, local, institutional and ‘personalised’ interventions seem to have made a difference. It also discusses future prospects for closing the gap under the Coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats that was elected in England in 2010.