More needs to be done to prevent clever but disadvantaged pupils from underachieving at GCSE level, according to a new report.
Education charity the Sutton Trust is calling on the government to establish a new fund to test the most effective ways of improving the progress and attainment of highly able students in comprehensive schools.
The Sutton Trust's research brief, Missing Talent, reveals over a third (36 per cent) of bright but disadvantaged boys seriously underachieve at age 16, compared with 16 per cent of their better off counterparts. The respective figures for girls are 24 per cent and nine per cent.
Notwithstanding the efforts of pupils to succeed, being from a poor home more than doubles their chances of missing out on top GCSE grades.
Bright but disadvantaged pupils will on average score four As and four Bs at GCSE level, while their equally able classmates from better off backgrounds get eight straight As.
Some students' problems are particularly pronounced. According to the research, one in ten of poor but clever pupils barely achieves C grades (or does much worse), lagging behind their more-advantaged peers by almost a whole GCSE grade per subject.
Working with a number of leading universities, the Sutton Trust is piloting a model of support for bright students in early secondary school. It currently reaches 500 of the brightest students in state schools serving poorer areas and the charity plans to expand the programme.
The report recommends that schools use the pupil premium to improve support for those at high risk of underachieving at the age of 16.
Institutions that are particularly good at supporting these pupils should support other schools in the local area, it states.
Finally, the study suggests improving schools' accountability for the progress of their most able pupils and ensuring such youngsters have access to a wide curriculum to give them a wider range of opportunities.
Report author Dr Rebecca Allen said: "Our research shows how much support some schools need to enable all children to reach their full potential, regardless of ability and background.
"But there are also many schools across the country that are exemplars of best practice in the education of highly able children and so could provide a programme of extra-curricular support to raise horizons and aspirations for children living in the wider area."
Posted by Tim Colman