Bright teenagers from poor households are trailing more than two years behind wealthier pupils, major new research has indicated.
The study, part of a series published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, also suggests that the achievement gap between rich and poor pupils in England and Scotland is around twice that of most other developed countries.
Dr John Jerrim of the Institute of Education, who carried out the research, said the findings means that more must be done to help boost the results of the brightest children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Jerrim analysed international reading skills statistics amongst 15 year old pupils and found that the gap between “rich able” students and “poor able” students was 2.5 years in England and 2.75 years in Scotland.
England and Scotland had bigger skills gaps than 19 and 22 other nations respectively, according to the study, including Finland and Germany where the average gap was only around one year.
The biggest inequality in achievement between rich and poor pupils was found in New Zealand and the United States.
Dr Jerrim said: “Education policy over the last decade has focused considerable attention on improving the attainment of less able children from poor backgrounds, with some success.
“Now policymakers must turn their attention to reducing inequalities in educational achievement amongst the brightest children in society, to ensure that those from disadvantaged families are not left behind.”
Identifying high-potential children from poor backgrounds as early as possible and ensuring they received plenty of support throughout their schooling was important, Jerrim advised. He added that schemes designed to raise academically able pupils’ aspirations during secondary school could boost later attainment.
Here at Children & the Arts, we feel that this underlines the importance of access to and participation in arts and culture for all children, regardless of background.
Boys ‘put off reading’
Elsewhere – and following on from our recent story on reading for pleasure – another recent study looking at the gender reading gap suggests that boys’ lack of achievement in reading is not down to ‘biological differences’.
Instead, there are distinct ‘social’ factors which lead to boys falling behind girls, according to the report by the Boys Reading Commission. These include parents giving girls books as presents rather than boys and teachers picking texts that appeal more to girls at school. A lack of reading amongst many fathers may also influence boys’ performance, researchers said.
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