A new study by King's College London has found that much of children's academic ability is determined by their genes rather than their environment.
Researchers at the university compared 11,000 identical and non-identical twins in order to establish the extent of genetic influence on behaviour. Identical twins share 100 per cent of their genetic material, whereas non-identical twins share only around 50 per cent. By comparing the two, researchers can determine which variations are due to genetics and which are due to environmental factors.
The research team found that around 58 per cent of the differences between GCSE scores in compulsory core subjects such as English and maths are a result of genetic variation. Some 29 per cent of differences were found to be determined by external factors such as schools, neighbourhoods and families.
Science grades were found to owe more to genetic factors than humanities grades - 58 per cent as opposed to 42 per cent.
However, people in education jobs are still very important. The leaders of the study maintain that environment plays a crucial role in shaping individuals' behaviour. Education systems that are better attuned to pupils' innate talents and abilities may be more successful than those which are not.
Nicholas Shakeshaft from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London said: "Since we are studying whole populations, this does not mean that genetics explains 60 per cent of an individual’s performance, but rather that genetics explains 60 per cent of the differences between individuals, in the population as it exists at the moment. This means that heritability is not fixed - if environmental influences change, then the influence of genetics on educational achievement may change too."
Professor Michael O’Donovan from the Neurosciences and Mental Health board at the MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre stated individuals living in the best and worst environments are likely to be influenced more by their environment than by their genes. He said more research was needed to explore the potential ramifications for education strategy.
Posted by Harriet McGowan