Genes have a bigger impact on GCSE results than teachers, finds study

11th December 2013 at 22:01

A pupil’s GCSE exam results have more to do with nature than nurture, according to new research.

Scientists have concluded that genes have a bigger influence than teachers, schools or even family when it comes to academic success.

A team from the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London studied the contribution of genetics to educational attainment in 11,000 identical and non-identical 16-year-old twins.

They concluded that the DNA a child is born with accounts for more of the differences in exam scores than factors in the home or classroom.

In fact, genetics explains almost 60 per cent of the variation seen in grades in the core subjects of English, maths and science.

In contrast, only 29 per cent was attributed to environmental factors such as schools, neighbourhoods and households.

Factors unique to each individual accounted for the remaining differences.

Study leader Nicholas Shakeshaft explained: “Since we are studying whole populations, this does not mean that genetics explains 60 per cent of an individual's performance, but rather that genetics explains 60 per cent of the differences between individuals, in the population as it exists at the moment.

“This means that heritability is not fixed – if environmental influences change, then the influence of genetics on educational achievement may change too.”

World-renowned geneticist Robert Plomin, professor of behavioural genetics at King’s College London, said: “While these findings have no necessary or specific implications for educational policies, it's important to recognise the major role that genetics plays in children's educational achievement.

“It means that educational systems that are sensitive to children’s individual abilities and needs, which are derived in part from their genetic predispositions, might improve educational achievement.”

But Professor Michael O'Donovan, from the Medical Research Council (MRC), which funded the research, said it was important to stress that the researchers found environments are still an important factor on educational outcomes.

“For individuals living in the best and worst environments, this exposure is likely to make more of a difference to their educational prospects than their genes,” he said.

“Further research is needed to assess the implications of the findings for educational strategies.”


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