Subject To Background (Sutton Trust and The University of Oxford, March 2015)

The Sutton Trust have recently commissioned a report into the impact of socio-economic background on a pupils’ achievement.  This report, entitled ‘Subject to Background’ was produced by the Department of Education at the University of Oxford and released in March 2015.

The report tracks 3000 pupils from the age of 3 to 18, comparing the progress of those who were identified as bright (having achieved level 5 or above in English, Maths or Science at Key Stage 2 tests) and from a disadvantaged socio-economic background, with those who were identified as bright but from a less disadvantaged background. For the full report, please click here.

Key Findings of the Report:

  • Those from disadvantaged backgrounds who were identified as bright at the age of 11 are only half as likely as bright but more advantaged pupils to get the A level grades to get into a top university.
  • Out of school academic enrichment is key in helping bright but socio-economically disadvantaged pupils achieve better GCSE results.
  • The educational experience of these pupils is an important factor in achieving better GCSE results. Bright but disadvantaged pupils did better when they attended schools that were well rated by Ofsted, focused on leaning, where pupils felt valued, trusted and respected, and where the headteacher was a visible and proactive presence around the school.
  • Bright but disadvantaged pupils are more likely to achieve 4 or more AS levels when they attended a pre-school (especially a good pre-school), they attended a good school with competent teaching, and when they were able to undertake academic enrichment at home.
  • Nearly twice as many advantaged bright pupils (compared to disadvantaged bright pupils) took A Levels in one or more of the ‘facilitating’ subjects providing access to the top universities. Of these, 41% of advantaged bright students were likely to get an A*, A, or B grade, compared to just 18% of bright but disadvantaged pupils.
  • 35% of bright disadvantaged pupils were likely to achieve 3 or more A Levels, compared to 60% of bright but less disadvantaged students.
  • Girls and ethnic minority students who are bright but socio-economically disadvantaged tend to achieve better than white boys of a similar socio-economic background.
  • Up until the age of 11, socio-economic disadvantage can be counteracted by good pre-school and primary and positive home learning environments where they are able to take part in educational enrichment activities such as trips to libraries or reading at home.
  • The home learning environment and opportunities for academic enrichment impacts on the achievement of young people through GCSE and A Levels.
  • The quality of education received is crucial for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to achieve academic success.
  • Attendance at a pre-school continues to predict better academic outcomes at KS4 and 5, especially if the pre-school attended was of high quality.

Key Recommendations:

  • There needs to be greater support for families from poorer socio-economic backgrounds to encourage academic enrichment outside of school. Enrichment vouchers should be funded by Pupil Premium.
  • Bright but disadvantaged students need more opportunity to attend ‘Outstanding’ schools. The government needs to widen access to such schools via balloting for places or the provision of free school transport.
  • Pupils need high quality teacher feedback in order to improve and achieve their potential.
  • Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds need greater opportunity to attend good pre-schools, with qualified staff.
  • White working class boys are especially vulnerable and need additional encouragement and support to engage in homework, reading and educational enrichment activities.  Schools need to provide these opportunities if they are unlikely to be provided at home.
Helen Robinson