Progress Made by High-Attaining Children from Disadvantaged Backgrounds

Centre for Analysis of Youth Transitions Research Report

June 2014



Anna Vignoles, University of Cambridge

Claire Crawford, University of Warwick and Institute for Fiscal Studies

Lindsey Macmillan, Institute of Education


Education is a key driver of social mobility and reducing educational inequality is central to this goal. In this report, we track the performance of high-achieving pupils from poor backgrounds through the education system and compare their trajectories with those of their more advantaged peers. Specifically, we consider the trajectories of poor children who make it to high-status (or ‘elite’) universities (defined as Russell Group institutions or other institutions with similarly high Research Assessment Exercise scores). We also consider the later attainment of poor children who have initially high, average and low attainment at age 7.

We are mindful of the methodological challenge of identifying the trajectories of particular groups of higher-achieving pupils whilst accounting for the statistical problem of regression to the mean (RTM). RTM occurs when initially high-achieving pupils look as if they are falling behind over time simply because their initial test scores were a poor representation of their true ability as they happened to be ‘lucky’ on the day of the test. This work aims to build on previous studies that have tried to address this issue, taking into account potential measurement issues to understand how initially high-achieving children from less advantaged backgrounds progress in the education system and to determine at what point they appear to fall back relative to their more advantaged peers.

We use data on a cohort of children born in 1991–92. The data we use are the linked National Pupil Database (NPD) – Individual Learner Records (ILR) – Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data. These data enable us to follow children through primary and secondary school, from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 4, as well as observing their participation and performance at Key Stage 5, and whether they went to university at age 18 or 19, including which university they attended.

Our measures of the socio-economic background of the child are school type, the child’s free school meal (FSM) status during secondary school and an index of socio-economic status (SES) that combines FSM eligibility with a variety of measures of the deprivation of their neighbourhood. We examine differences in attainment on the basis of each of these measures of SES separately.

Our sample includes all children who attended a state primary school and sat Key Stage 1 and 2 tests, including students who went on to study at a private secondary school.

Defining those who are ‘high achieving’ is a key part of our analysis. We use a series of measures at each Key Stage to indicate high achievement. A minority of students are defined as high achieving using our definitions. For example:

  • Just under 10% of our sample attend an ‘elite’ university.
  • At Key Stage 5, 11% of our sample have at least three A or B grades at A level.
  • At Key Stage 4, 37% of our sample achieved five or more A*–C grades in EBacc GCSE subjects.
  • At Key Stages 1 and 2, around 18–19% achieve above the expected level in both English/reading and maths (the expected level is level 2 at Key Stage 1 and level 4 at Key Stage 2).


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Thinking together, learning together, writing together: synergies and challenges in the collaborative supervisory relationship


Keith S. Taber 1

Richard Brock 1

Gabriela Martínez Sainz 1

1 Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge


This article explores the value and potential challenges of supervisor-student co-writing during a research degree programme. The article comprises of (i) a text prepared by a faculty research supervisor (KST) arguing the case for encouraging co-writing between supervisors and their research students as part of a research degree, and especially doctoral, programme, along with two comments (ii, iii) on that text contributed by current doctoral students (RB, GMS) offering reflections from student perspectives, and (iv) a synoptic response to those comments. It is argued that writing for publication during doctoral study is a core part of research training and induction into the research community, as well as being important for future career prospects. Seeking to publish from the doctoral project offers the student valuable critical feedback as well as experience in defending aspects of the research thesis. The text raises the issue of authorship of such work, given the possible level of supervisor input in supporting the research student, in relation to the understanding of academic authorship adopted in the Academy. Co-publication between student and supervisor may be seen as beneficial to both parties, but there are clearly some potential risks to having any formal expectation that the student will co-author papers with their supervisor as a matter of course. Students may rightly feel concerned about issues of ownership of the thesis project; of having to negotiate the inherently uneven power relationship between faculty staff and students; and potential implications for external perceptions (e.g. of future employers or funders) of the student as a fully independent researcher.


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Can Pakistan afford quality education for all its children and young people?


Professor Pauline Rose 

(Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre, University of Cambridge)

Dr Rabea Malik 

(IDEAS Pakistan)

REAL logo LRG-1 copy                                                        IDEAS_Logo


This working paper by Professor Pauline Rose (Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre, University of Cambridge) and Dr Rabea Malik (IDEAS Pakistan), was prepared as a country case study for the Oslo Summit on Education Development held on July 6, 2015, hosted by the Norwegian Government. The summit aimed at mobilizing a strong and renewed political commitment to reach the 58 million children who are still being denied their right to education and to strengthen learning outcomes for children and youth, and focusing on success stories and best practices that can be taken to scale by bringing in new partners and mobilizing funding, as well as illustrate bottlenecks and how they may be overcome.

We are very grateful to Dr. Leisbet Steer (Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution) and Laura Stankiewicz for coordinating the process for the country case study, and their feedback on drafts. We are also very grateful to Dr Ben Alcott, Dr Sonia Ilie, Taha Mashood and Zohra Sohail who have provided data analysis included in this paper. We would further like to thank the following people who have given feedback on a draft of the paper: Manos Antoninis (Education for All Global Monitoring Report), Dr. Randy Hatfield (USAID), Dr. Salman Humanyun (I-SAPS), Dr. Faisal Bari (IDEAS), Dr. Allahbuksh Malik (Federal Additional Secretary, Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training), Dr. Hanid Mukhtar (ex- World Bank advisor), Dr. Anjum Nasim (IDEAS), Arif Naveed (University of Cambridge), Dr Liesbet Steer (Brookings Institution), Laura Stankiewicz (Brookings Institution), and Asma Zubairi (Education for All Global Monitoring Report). We are particularly grateful to the Norwegian Government for its support to the paper, and notably Nanna Thue (Counsellor, Development, in the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Pakistan).

The report builds on contributions of many stakeholders, but the findings, interpretations, and conclusions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of all of the contributors or their institutions or governments they represent.


In 2010, Pakistan’s constitution made education a legal right, making it the state’s responsibility to provide free and compulsory education for children aged 5-16 years.[i]  Article 25-A binds the state to bear the cost of education, and as such has financial implications for the government. The inclusion of the Right to Education in the constitution is an important signal of commitment to education by a democratically elected government. The challenge is how to make this guarantee a reality.

Achieving this right will be a huge challenge for the country. In 2011, the Pakistan Education Task Force announced an ‘education emergency.’. One of the challenges identified by the task force was the finances required to expand learning opportunities. New reform initiatives have been implemented across the country since that time, but the education system is still in crisis and financing remains a critical issue.

This paper reviews the state of education in Pakistan, highlighting in particular the wide inequalities in educational outcomes that persist. The paper reviews the current state of financing for education, including domestic and external sources of finance. It notes the positive developments in recent years with regard to constitutional structures governing fiscal and administrative arrangements, which empower the provinces to meet the education goals, and support the distribution of finances from the federal government to provinces according to need. The paper also details the further challenges, notably low levels of spending requiring wider reforms to strengthen the tax system and the need for redistributive financing within provinces to tackle inequalities. The paper concludes with a list of opportunities for action for the Government of Pakistan to achieve its education goals.


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