Both advantaged and disadvantaged pupils need more support, report shows

A report by The Sutton Trust – entitled Potential for Success – has examined the way pupils from advantaged backgrounds perform in school compared to those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

While high-achieving students often show promise early in their school career, many end up falling behind – particularly since the ‘gifted and talented’ programme ended in 2010. No similar programme has replaced it since.

Some of the core findings of the report are:

  • Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to be in the top 10% for attainment in English and maths at the end of primary school.
  • Disadvantaged students are three times less likely to be in this high attainment group than their more advantaged peers.
  • High attainers from disadvantaged backgrounds who are white have the lowest level of attainment at GCSE compared to their peers in any other ethnic group. Only 45% of disadvantaged white students with high prior attainment gain 5A*-A at GCSE, compared to 63% of black students and 67% of Asian students from similar backgrounds.
  • Students with high attainment do better at GCSE in schools with lower proportions of students on free school meals, schools in London, in converter academies, and in schools with higher numbers of other previously high attaining students.

The Sutton Trust says that maximising the potential of highly able young people poses three main challenges in schools: identifying the right students, offering them the right programmes and interventions and managing the process in a sustainable way.

While highly-able students from certain backgrounds, in certain parts of the country and attending certain types of schools face substantial barriers, what schools actually do for such students can be crucial for success.

The report suggests that high achievers must be supported and disadvantaged pupils incentivised.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the The Association of School and College Leaders, said of these results:

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We need to do more as a society to help young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to achieve their potential. Many schools are doing a superb job every day to give these young people the start in life they deserve.

But these students can face very difficult challenges beyond the school gates and often live in communities which have been drained of hope by decades of insecure and poorly paid work. Schools in these areas also face the toughest systemic challenges, particularly in terms of recruiting teachers and leaders.

We need a joined-up approach with social and economic policies which restore hope to these communities alongside more support for their schools. We are not, however, convinced that any of this will be driven by further changes to accountability measures.”

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