Poverty shapes pupils' success

5th September 2008 at 01:00
Wealth influences children's attainment more than their relationship with parents, study finds

The most significant factor determining pupil performance is socio- economic background, not parental involvement, says a new study.

The London University Institute of Education investigation concluded that the relationship children have with their parents, and the way that they behave towards them, is less important than their economic and social status.

The Government-commissioned study analysed the relationships between pupils' scores in national tests for 11-year-olds and their individual, family and school circumstances. It concluded that parents' mental health, and the way they interact with - and teach - their children at home, was a "much weaker" influence than poverty levels, family education and housing.

The report follows another piece of Government-commissioned research, published last month, which noted that a strong correlation between pupil performance and their parents' socio-economic status had left England's schools system lagging behind the world's best.

That study, by consultancy firm McKinsey, compared England with about 20 high-performing education systems. It found that pupils eligible for free school meals (FSMs) are less than half as likely to get five or more A*-C grade GCSEs compared with other pupils.

Variation in pupil performance lay mainly within schools rather than between them. The Institute of Education study supports this, finding that characteristics of the schools attended, such as value-added scores and the proportion of pupils with special needs or eligible for FSMs, were the weakest influence on pupil performance.

Both pieces of research cast doubt on the Government's decision to focus on individual schools in its drive to improve exam results.

The Institute of Education found the capability of pupils - measured in terms of assessment scores when they entered school and their date of birth - was the most important factor in their achievement.

But it concluded that all four factors - socio-economic background, parental behaviour, quality of school, and pupil capability - were linked. Pupils from "good" socio-economic backgrounds tended also to have good family relationships.

"Better contexts are associated with better attainment," it concludes. "However, these contexts are closely related to one another."

- `Influences on attainment in primary school interactions between child, family and school contexts', by Kathryn Duckworth, is available at http:www.dcsf.gov.ukresearch


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