Children whose parents are highly educated are far more likely to perform well at school than those whose parents are unskilled or manual workers, new research finds.
And children of the best-qualified parents tend to be the best-performing in the classroom. Pupils whose parents held postgraduate degrees scored significantly higher than their peers in a range of cognitive tests conducted by academics at the University of London's Institute of Education.
The study tested 13,000 children, all born in the UK between 2000 and 2002, on a series of vocabulary, problem-solving and decision-making tasks.
The vocabulary test required children to read sets of words and relate them to one another. For example, an adult might say “banana, apple and orange” and the child must respond that all three are fruit. Children whose parents had higher degrees scored an average of nine points more than children of parents with no qualifications.
And children of professional parents scored five points more than those whose parents were manual workers, and six points more than those whose parents were unemployed.
This gap in verbal skills between the offspring of the most and the least educated parents has existed since these children were three years old, the academics say.
In the second task, completed on a computer, children’s memory and problem-solving ability were tested. They were asked to find tokens hidden in an increasing number of boxes, then to remember where they had found them. They were scored on their ability to do this quickly, strategically and accurately.
Children whose parents had no qualifications made an average of 43 errors – 13 more than those whose parents had a postgraduate degree. Children with the least-educated parents also took the longest time to complete the task, and adopted the least strategic approach.
In the final task, children were shown a computer screen with 10 boxes, some red and some blue. They were asked to bet points on which colour box contained a token. They were scored according to how often they chose the more likely option, as well as on speed, impulsiveness and risk-taking.
Children of parents with postgraduate degrees made better decisions, more quickly and with fewer risks, than those whose parents had no qualifications. Children of professionals and managers also scored higher than those whose parents were unemployed.
The authors of the study are careful to point out that risk-taking is not a cognitive skill. “However, attitudes to risk may have an impact on decisions regarding education and future careers – and in very different ways, depending on socio-economic background,” they say.
The full report is available here.
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