Subject to background: what promotes better achievement for bright but disadvantaged students?

Document type
Sammons, Pam; Toth, Katalin; Sylva, Kathy
Sutton Trust
Date of publication
17 March 2015
Education and Skills
Social welfare
Material type

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This report outlines the pattern of academic attainment of a group of ‘bright’ but socio-economically disadvantaged children from pre-school until their A-levels at the end of Key Stage 5, drawn from a sample of over 3,000 children who were tracked since the age of three. It compares their attainment in public examinations in secondary school or college to that of other ‘bright’ but less disadvantaged students. The findings reveal that bright but disadvantaged children are considerably less likely to take the subjects most likely to get them into good universities than their more advantaged peers.

Bright but disadvantaged students obtained statistically significant better GCSE results when they engaged in average or better out of school academic enrichment through activities such as educational outings or reading at home. They were significantly more likely to go on to get four or more AS-levels when they had attended any pre-school, especially one of higher quality (rather than no pre-school) and where they had competent teachers and engaged in academic enrichment activities at home, such as reading or learning opportunities including family visits to museums and galleries, between the ages of 11 and 14. They were also significantly more likely to go on to attain three or more A-levels when they attended a secondary school rated outstanding by Ofsted for the quality of its pupils’ learning and where they experienced average or good levels of academic enrichment at home.

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