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.

If you want to earn more, study maths

A study from the Centre for Analysis of Youth Transitions has shown the importance of maths and reading skills for earnings later in life.

The authors used data from the British Cohort Study to compare reading and maths skills for children at age 10 with their earnings at age 30, 34, and 38. They found that, controlling for background factors such as parents’ income, a 1 standard deviation increase in maths (equivalent to moving from an average score to being in the top 15%) raised weekly earnings by 13%. A similar increase in reading scores raised income by around 10%. In both cases, much of the impact was due to pupils with higher maths and reading scores obtaining higher qualifications.

The study highlights both the importance of maths and reading skills, but also the difficulty of making substantive changes to outcomes for pupils. A difference of 1 standard deviation (an effect size of 1) is a challenging improvement to make, given that interventions that have an effect size of +0.2 in education are considered effective. The authors do not look at whether the effect was consistent across the ability range; it would be interesting to know if the effect was more dramatic for the bottom 10% of pupils, for example. Also, the study only looked at employed people. Reading and maths skills are also known to affect unemployment, of course.

Source: Reading and Maths Skills at Age 10 and Earnings in Later Life: A Brief Analysis Using the British Cohort Study (2013), Department for Education.