British talent ‘squandered’ through disadvantage

Thousands of able children are not achieving top grades at GCSE because of their economic background, The Sutton Trust says

disadvantaged children Sutton Trust, GCSE

The most able children from poor backgrounds are almost twice as likely as their better off peers to fail to achieve top grades at GCSE, a new report from the Sutton Trust finds.

The trust’s Social Mobility: The Next Generation report compares the progress and performance of both disadvantaged and better off children who showed high potential according to their English and maths results at Key Stage 2.

It found that, in 2021, 62 per cent of better-off high-potential students got five or more 7-9s at GCSE, while for similar students from disadvantaged homes, it was less than 40 per cent.

Between 2017 and 2021, more than 28,000 young people who would be expected to achieve top grades at GCSE – based on the potential they showed at primary school – did not do so.

For the study, The Sutton Trust looked at 2,249 young people who came in the top third of attainers at the end of primary school.

By the time disadvantaged students with high potential take their GCSEs, they have fallen behind similarly talented classmates by three-quarters of a grade per subject, and by a whole grade compared to the most affluent.

Those most likely to fall behind include white boys and black Caribbean students, those with special educational needs or disabilities, and students in the North East and North West of England.

High ability disadvantaged children are over three times more likely to lack a suitable device to study at home and twice as likely to lack a suitable place to study, the report finds.

Sixteen per cent are young carers – three times more likely than other high attainers (5 per cent). They are also less than half as likely to have a parent with a degree, and four times more likely to live in a single-parent household.

The report authors set out measures to ensure these students can reach their potential, including early identification and tracking, provision of targeted support, including mentoring and tutoring, as well as family engagement.

They also call for an urgent review of funding for schools in the poorest areas, and the National Tutoring Programme to become a core part of the national strategy to close attainment gaps.

A press release announcing the Sutton Trust report said that British talent was being “squandered” through economic disadvantage.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chair of the Sutton Trust, and chair of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: “It’s tragic that the talent of so many youngsters showing early promise is being allowed to go to waste.

“This is not only grossly unfair, damaging the life chances of young people, but by wasting their talent, we’re also damaging the country.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said it “remained committed to closing the disadvantage gap”.