Pupils from poorer homes missing out on top grades at GCSE

Over 1,000 disadvantaged students who did well in primary school are missing out on top grades at GCSE each year, according to research published by the Sutton Trust.

'Potential for Success' finds that poorer pupils are less likely to perform well at the end of primary school than their classmates. Only four per cent of disadvantaged students score in the top 10 per cent when they’re 11 years old, compared to 13 per cent of their more advantaged peers.

But even those disadvantaged pupils who get good grades in primary school fall behind their classmates with similar levels of attainment by the time they get to GCSE. 52 per cent of these disadvantaged students get at least 5 A*-A grades at GCSE, compared to 72% of their classmates.

According to the report, if poorer students who do well at the end of primary school performed as well at GCSE as their classmates with similar levels of prior attainment, over 1,000 more disadvantaged students would achieve at least 5 A*-A grades each year.

The Sutton Trust is calling for stronger evidence and evaluation of activities that support pupils who did well at the end of primary school.

The report recommends that Ofsted inspections should routinely assess a school’s provision for disadvantaged students and GCSE attainment scores for poorer pupils with high prior attainment should be published in school league tables.

Access to high quality teaching should be increased, the report says, with incentives for teachers with more experience and subject specialism to teach in disadvantaged schools.

The report also says that students with the potential for high-attainment should be supported and that all students have access to high quality extra-curricular activities to boost essential life skills.

As part of efforts to combat the problem, the Sutton Trust runs Sutton Scholars, a programme for high-attaining state school students in early secondary school.

Sir Peter Lampl, Founder of the Sutton Trust and Chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: “It is worrying to see that disadvantaged pupils with the potential for high achievement are falling behind their more advantaged peers. All pupils should be given the chance to realise their potential regardless of their background.

“We need better evidence of how to improve the attainment of disadvantaged highly able students. Schools should be monitored and incentivised to do this.”