Simple things like teaching someone who is not a first language speaker make a difference. In the inner cities a high proportion of kids have at least one parent who rarely speaks English to them. In a middle class suburban areas there will be a lot more books in the home and a high proportion of the parents will have been reading to the children from an early age. There are also more children who are suffering from all the knock on effects of poverty including something as simple as arriving badly fed or more complex problems such as coping with a parent being jailed or living in a care home. There is also the challenge of dealing with the attitudes of too many white working class children who arrive at school sullenly convinced that learning isn't for them because people in their family didn't enjoy their own education and weren't successful at it.
This does not of course mean that it is impossible to run a successful school in the inner city or that you are bound to run a good one in a comfortable middle class town. But what is virtually certain is that it costs a lot more to run a school well in a place like Tower Hamlets compared with a small successful town in Surrey.
Under the last government the Liberal Democrats were able to force through a very good piece of legislation which helped tackle this disparity. The pupil premium was designed to ensure that any school which recruited a student whose parents were entitled to free school meals, and thus not desperately well off, attracted extra money. This provided more money for schools dealing with working class kids and equalled up the situation a touch.
This deliberate attempt to make the system a fraction more equal did not start with the pupil premium. The formulas which fund schools in different local authority areas have always given higher funding to schools in difficult urban environments than they have to schools where there are a high proportion of middle class kids. Schools in Tower Hamlets get significantly more money for each child than children in Surrey.
Since children who live in nice middle class areas still manage to do massively better at school than those who lived in poor areas there are strong arguments for making the differential bigger. Even if you don't care about the individual children the country needs people to leave school with better skills if our businesses are going to succeed and it is hard to see Britain competing internationally if Chinese and Indian schools are churning out millions of graduates and we are sending out millions who can't read and understand their own gas bill.
But instead of trying to tackle the skills shortage by helping inner city schools there is a completely different approach being planned. The longstanding arrangement to provide more funding for each child to schools in poorer areas is now under threat. One of the first things that Conservative MPs have started to campaign on after their election victory is education funding. They want to change the arrangements so that the extra money going to schools in the more deprived local authority areas is taken away. They want to take money away from those who are poor to those who are relatively well off.
What is happening is that local councillors and school heads from well off Conservative areas are very well aware that some nasty cuts are going to be made to school budgets. They want to protect their own by transferring resources away from city schools to shire county ones. They are making arguments about equality of funding and about every child being equal and thus deserving equal funding but don't be in any doubts about what they really want. They want the pain to be inflicted on someone else's children rather than their own. Many of the Shire County Head Teachers who are campaigning most loudly for the transfer of funding would simply not be able to cope if they tried to run an inner city school. But they don't care. They want more money for their school and they don't care who suffers so long as it isn't them.
So the election represents a sharp shift in the approach of the government to school funding. Under the coalition the pupil premium was a really well intentioned and highly practical approach to trying to ensure every child stood a chance. The current government is coming under intense pressure from its backbenchers and from conservative councillors to do the exact opposite.
This needs fighting every step of the way. What is needed is proper resourcing of education and effective use of the resources that are available. What we are getting is the well off parts of the country campaigning to double the impact of those cuts for the poor and to make sure there are no serious cuts for their own children.
Perhaps this is what Cameron meant when he talked about one nation Conservatism. His government will only look after one part of the nation.