A new study has emphasised how far attainment levels among England's poorest pupils lag behind those of wealthier children and the challenge secondary teachers face in tackling this gap.
Dr John Jerrim from the Institute of Education at the University of London analysed 2009 results from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) reading tests.
According to the PISA tests, the gap that year between the least advantaged fifth of English 15-year-olds and the richest fifth of pupils of the same age was equivalent to 28 months of schooling on average.
England is therefore ranked 23rd out of 32 countries on this indicator, which still places it close to the OECD average and ahead of the likes of France, New Zealand and the US.
Yet Dr Jerrim's report's, 'The Reading Gap', published on behalf of the Sutton Trust, demonstrates that this difference increased to 30 months between high achieving 15-year-old boys from the most and least advantaged backgrounds.
By contrast, this discrepancy was at 15 months or less for Finland, Denmark, Germany and Canada, while only Scotland had a larger gap.
Sutton Trust chairman Peter Lampl remarked: "We need to improve the support given to highly able children in comprehensive schools and academies.
"That is why it is so important that there is a targeted scheme that ensures that those with high potential from low and middle income backgrounds are identified and helped to thrive. Parents and students need to know that highly able young people will be given the backing they need to succeed regardless of which school they attend."
In response, the Sutton Trust has put forward suggestions for improving schools' provision for their brightest pupils, including a programme for testing the most effective ways for state schools to stretch highly able students from low and middle income backgrounds.
Last month, Ofsted published a report stating that - based on over 2,000 observed lessons from 41 non-selective schools - teaching in England is in many cases insufficiently focused on the needs of the ablest children.
Moreover, the watchdog also published a report in June warning of disadvantaged pupils being let down by many schools, particularly in coastal towns and rural, less populous areas and in some cases in relatively affluent parts of the country.
Posted by Harriet McGowan