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Encouragement from teachers 'can make biggest impact on disadvantaged pupils'

28/03/2017 Joanna

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds often experience the most significant benefits from direct encouragement from their teachers.

This is according to a new study from the University of Cambridge, which tracked 4,300 adolescents in England from the age of 13 onwards as they completed detailed questionnaires annually for seven years. During their final year, they were asked whether a teacher had encouraged them to stay on in full-time education.

On average, rates of entry into post-16 education stood at 74 per cent for students that reported receiving encouragement, compared to only 66 per cent for those who said they did not. This was true across all backgrounds and ability levels.

Based on previous examination scores, teacher encouragement made the most difference for students with average academic achievement, as these were the individuals most likely to go either way; students in the upper and lower thirds in terms of performance were less easy to influence in this manner.

However, the greatest difference was seen among students with the lowest levels of parental education. For those whose parents lacked any formal qualifications, post-16 education enrolment rose from 52 per cent among those who did not receive teacher encouragement to 64 per cent among those who did.

This initial encouragement was also shown to increase their likelihood of university entry by ten percentage points - one-fifth higher than students from similar backgrounds who did not report being encouraged.

Study author Dr Ben Alcott from the University of Cambridge's faculty of education said: "When people speak of a positive school experience, they frequently cite a personal relationship with a teacher, and the encouragement they were given. Our research helps quantify that impact and show its significance, particularly for addressing social mobility.

"The importance of that teacher-student connection can get lost in the midst of exam statistics or heat of political debate."

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