Staff in teacher jobs are likely to find pupils growing up in poverty exhibit characteristics that detrimentally affect their education attainment, according to a new US study.
Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis sought to discern the impact of poverty on the brain development of 145 children aged between six and 12 years old using magnetic resonance imaging.
In addition, they assessed at a clinical appointment the level of parental nurturing children received by giving them a gift-wrapped present and telling them not to open it until their parent had filled out some paperwork.
The researchers were able to gauge the extent of nurturing by monitoring both the children's patience, and parents' patience with the child, and found those parents living in poverty seemed more stressed and less able to nurture their children.
Moreover, the study's findings published in the journal JAMA Paediatrics revealed those children living in poverty and whose parents were less nurturing were likely to undergo negative changes within their brains that could impair their ability to learn.
The scans showed these children possessed less grey matter, which is linked to intelligence, and also less white matter, which is associated with the brain's ability to transmit signals between cells and structures.
Furthermore, they also tended to have smaller amygladias and hippocampuses, brain structures connected with emotional health and with memory and learning respectively.
Principal investigator Joan Luby commented: "A growing number of neuroscience and brain-imaging studies recently have shown that poverty also has a negative effect on brain development.
"What's new is that our research shows the effects of poverty on the developing brain, particularly in the hippocampus, are strongly influenced by parenting and life stresses that the children experience."
Children living in poverty were also more likely to experience stressful life events, such as moving house or changing schools, which can detrimentally affect brain development as well.
Official figures published in June indicate 29 per cent of children in the UK were living in absolute poverty after housing costs during 2011-12.
The implications of this for educational performance were highlighted in exam results last year, with 36.3 per cent of pupils eligible for free school meals attaining five GCSEs, including in English and maths, at grades A*-C, compared to 62.6 per cent of all other children.
Posted by Alan Douglas