How much do affluence and disadvantage influence educational attainment?
This research focuses on a range of factors under the umbrella term 'aspirations, attitudes and behaviours', encompassing a wide variety of influences throughout childhood. This study:
uses a number of large-scale longitudinal data sources capturing groups of children in the UK from early childhood through to late adolescence;
examines attainment gaps between richer and poorer children and influences on these, from pre-school through to secondary school;
considers the importance of expectations and aspirations for higher education;
looks at the intergenerational picture; and
suggests some policy conclusions relating to parents and the family home, and children's own attitudes and behaviours.
• The aspirations, attitudes and behaviour of parents and children potentially play an important part in explaining why poor children typically do worse at school.
• Children from poorer backgrounds are much less likely to experience a rich home learning environment than children from better-off backgrounds. At age three, reading to the child and the wider home learning environment are very important for children’s educational development.
• The gap between children from richer and poorer backgrounds widens especially quickly during primary school. Some of the factors that appear to explain this are:
- parental aspirations for higher education;
- how far parents and children believe their own actions can affect their lives; and
- children’s behavioural problems.
• It becomes harder to reverse patterns of under-achievement by the teenage years, but disadvantage and poor school results continue to be linked, including through:
- teenagers’ and parents’ expectations for higher education;
- material resources such as access to a computer and the internet at home;
- engagement in anti-social behaviour; and
- young people’s belief in their own ability at school.
• The research found that cognitive skills are passed from parents to children across the generations. This also helps explain why children from poorer backgrounds underperform in school.