Talented poor pupils missing out on GCSE success

A new research brief from the Sutton Trust has shown that talented pupils from poor backgrounds are falling short of their potential at GCSE, achieving on average half a grade less than other highly able pupils.;

The authors looked at pupils’ performance in Key Stage 2 (KS2) tests at age 11, and then at their GCSE attainment. They found that 15% of “highly able” pupils, that is those who score in the top 10% nationally at KS2, fail to achieve in the top 25% at GCSE.

The two factors that appear to make the most difference in this achievement are FSM6 status (those who are eligible for the Pupil Premium because they have received free school meals in any of the previous six years) and gender. Highly able boys are almost twice as likely to fall off track as girls, and for both boys and girls FSM6 status more than doubles the risk of falling into the missing talent group. One in ten of the poor but clever pupils are barely achieving C grades.

The report also found differences in the subjects taken. Highly able FSM6 pupils are less likely to be taking history or geography (included in the English Baccalaureate measure), and only 53% take triple sciences, compared to 69% of those not in the FSM6 category. This may be because they attend one of the 20% of schools that does not offer the triple science curriculum.

Recommendations include:

  • Developing a national programme for highly able pupils, with ring-fenced funding to support evidence-based activities and tracking of pupils’ progress.
  • Making schools accountable for this progress.
  • Ensuring all highly able pupils have access to triple science.
  • Ensuring all highly able pupils study a broad traditional curriculum (including a language and humanity) to widen future educational opportunities.
  • Using schools that buck the trend to support those where highly able pupils underperform, or to offer extra-curricular support to raise aspirations for young people in the area.

Source: Missing Talent (2015), The Sutton Trust.

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