Improving the prospects of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds is a key concern for policymakers and teachers alike, with a range of initiatives announced by the government to improve outcomes for this demographic.
A new report by the Sutton Trust highlights the importance of reading for pleasure, education trips and regular homework in boosting bright but disadvantaged pupils' prospects, in addition to attending good schools.Better results at GCSE and A-level
Researchers analysed data from more than 3,000 young people who have been tracked through school since the age of three for the Effective Pre-School, Primary and Secondary Education project.
'Bright' children were defined as those who achieved level five and above in the national Key Stage 2 tests.
Those classified as bright but disadvantaged were found to achieve better GCSE results when they engaged in average or better out of school academic enrichment through activities such as educational outings or reading at home.
These activities were also correlated with strong performance at A-level. Pupils who had taken part in academic enrichment activities between the ages of 11 and 14 were more likely to go on to get four or more AS-levels, the study found.
Benefiting from pre-school education, home learning activities, attending an outstanding secondary school and doing more homework also contributed to higher A-level grades.
In addition, those who spent significant amounts of time on daily homework in Year 11 were nine times more likely to get three A-levels than those who did no regular homework.
However, bright but disadvantaged children were considerably less likely to take the subjects most likely to get them into good universities than their more advantaged counterparts.
Just 33 per cent of bright but disadvantaged students took one or more A-level exam in 'facilitating subjects' prioritised by universities, such as maths, English, the sciences, humanities or modern languages. This figure compares with 58 per cent of their better-off peers.
Only 35 per cent of the disadvantaged group went on to get three A-levels in any subjects compared with 60 per cent of their bright advantaged peers.
Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust and of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: "The fact that bright disadvantaged students fall so far behind when they reach their A-levels shows that government and schools urgently need to do more to support able students from less advantaged homes.
"We must ensure that access to the best schools and opportunities for academic enrichment outside school are available to all students. It is also vital that schools advise their students on the right subject choices at GCSE and A-level so as to maximise their potential."Recommendations for teachers and policymakers
Based on this research, the Sutton Trust has made a number of recommendations that could help to improve the prospects of bright but disadvantaged children.
It proposes using education enrichment vouchers, funded through the pupil premium, to encourage reading for pleasure, educational trips and out-of-school study for high attainers - particularly those who performed well at age 11.
Teachers also have a significant role to play in raising outcomes. They should provide students with good feedback and monitor their work systematically, the authors recommend.
Additional encouragement needs to be provided for certain groups of children, such as white working-class boys. Such groups will benefit from pupil interventions to enable them to engage in self-directed study, do sufficient homework and read more books, particularly when these opportunities are not available at home.
Schools and colleges should also monitor and guide option choices to ensure bright but disadvantaged students maximise their potential to enter higher education, the report states.