Poorer high achievers falling short of potential

New research conducted by the Centre for Analysis of Youth Transitions tracked the performance of high-achieving pupils from deprived backgrounds through the education system, and compared their trajectories with their more advantaged peers.

The authors found that children from poorer backgrounds who are high achieving at age 7 are more likely to fall off a high achievement trajectory than children from richer backgrounds. High-achieving children from the most deprived families perform worse than lower-achieving pupils from the least deprived families by Key Stage 4 (KS4). Conversely, lower-achieving affluent children catch up with higher-achieving deprived children between KS2 and KS4.

The research focused on children born in 1991–92. Of these, 2.8% of pupils (921 out of 33,039) who claimed free school meals (FSM) throughout secondary school went to an “elite” university, compared with 9.9% of pupils (40,165 out of 406,596) who never claimed FSM in secondary school. These differences can largely be explained by the higher levels of achievement of pupils from more affluent backgrounds.

The authors conclude that the period between KS2 and KS4 seems a crucial time to ensure that higher-achieving pupils from poor backgrounds remain on a high achievement trajectory, and that this is potentially important for policy makers interested in increasing participation at high-status universities among young people from more deprived backgrounds.

Source: High-attaining Children from Disadvantaged Backgrounds (2014), Social Mobility and Child Poverty Comission.

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