Educational disadvantage starts from age 10

education 2018This article is brought to you in association with OECD.


The academic performance gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children develops from as early as 10 years old and widens throughout students’ lives, according to a new OECD report.

Equity in Education: Breaking down barriers to social mobility finds that, on average across OECD countries with comparable data, more than two-thirds of the achievement gap observed at age 15 and about two-thirds of the gap among 25-29 year-olds was already seen among 10-year-olds.

The report finds a strong link between a school’s socio-economic profile and a student’s performance: students who attend more socio-economically advantaged schools perform better in PISA. Yet, on average across OECD countries, 48% of disadvantaged students attended disadvantaged schools in 2015 and there has been no significant change in segregation levels in most countries over the past decade.

On average across OECD countries, disadvantaged students attending advantaged schools score 78 points higher than those attending disadvantaged schools, equivalent to more than two and a half years of schooling.

A school’s socio-economic profile is most strongly related to performance in countries including Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Hungary, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia and the Netherlands, where disadvantaged students attending advantaged schools score more than 130 points higher in science than those in disadvantaged schools. But in Finland, Norway and Poland students from all social backgrounds do well.

“Too little headway has been made to break down the barriers to social mobility and give all children an equal chance to succeed,” said Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills. “More investment is needed to help disadvantaged students do better, including recognition of the critical role that teachers have to play.”

The report also looks at the impact of well-being on performance. It says that around one in four disadvantaged students across OECD countries are “socially and emotionally resilient”, meaning they are satisfied with their life, feel socially integrated at school and do not suffer from test anxiety. In Croatia, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, the Netherlands and Switzerland, the share of such students is among the largest (30% or more) but in other European countries, including Bulgaria, Italy, Montenegro, Portugal and the United Kingdom, the share is comparatively small (less than 20%).

Disadvantaged students who are socially and emotionally resilient tend to do better academically. This implies that helping disadvantaged students develop positive attitudes and behaviours towards themselves and their education would also boost their academic development.

Giving early access to education is key, says the report, so that children can acquire essential social and emotional skills, particularly those from disadvantaged families. Countries should also target additional resources towards disadvantaged students and schools, and reduce the concentration of disadvantaged students in schools.

Teachers need more support so they can identify students’ needs and manage diversity in classrooms, build strong links with parents, and encourage parents to be more involved in their child’s education. Teachers can also foster students’ well-being and create a positive learning environment for all students by emphasising the importance of persistence and by encouraging students to support each other, such as through peer-mentoring programmes.

A separate OECD report, Responsive School Systems, also highlights the importance of promoting educational equity, as well as quality and efficiency. It includes analysis and recommendations on the organisation of school facilities and education services in a context of changing demand for school places and evolving student needs.

Further information on Equity in Education: Breaking down barriers to social mobility, including country notes for Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Mexico, Switzerland, UK and the US, is available at: http://www.oecd.org/education/equity-in-education-9789264073234-en.htm. Responsive School Systems is available at http://www.oecd.org/education/responsive-school-systems-9789264306707-en.htm.

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