The Department has commissioned and reviewed a wide range of evidence on the factors contributing to disparities in achievement and attainment at primary school. The main factors identified by research can be summarised as follows:
Family circumstances: Low family income has been shown to have an impact on children’s outcomes at school, even when controlling for the effect of other factors associated with deprivation1. Similarly, family socioeconomic status is known to have a significant impact on cognitive outcomes2. The level of education achieved by parents is also strongly associated with their children’s outcomes3, as is parental involvement in education: in particular, the quality of the “home learning environment” varies between families4 and has persistent effects during primary school5.
The school effect: There is strong and robust evidence to suggest that regardless of the influence of family circumstances outlined above, schools are independently important for children’s outcomes. However, some schools are more effective than others, or effective in different ways6. Analysis suggests that 17 per cent. of the unexplained variation in pupil value added scores between Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 can be explained by differences between schools7. The school effect is multifaceted and complex, but we know that both teaching quality and leadership are two key components8.
Long-term impact of early learning experiences: children who attend higher quality pre-school settings perform better at primary school than similar pupils who attend a lower quality pre-school or no pre-school9.
Health: low birth weight and early health or developmental problems can be a significant influence on cognitive outcomes10.
English as an additional language: performance at primary school has been shown to vary according to whether children are eligible for support with English as an additional language11.
Special educational needs: children identified as having special educational needs (SEN) or who are registered as School Action Plus during Key Stage 2 demonstrate lower Key Stage 2 performance compared to similar pupils with no identified SEN, even when prior attainment and other characteristics are taken into account12. Raw figures show that they are 52 percentage points behind children with no identified SEN on the national indicator of achieving Level 4 in both English and maths at Key Stage 213.
Mobility: on average, children who change school during Year 6 demonstrate lower Key Stage 2 performance compared to similar pupils who remain at the same school14, even when accounting for prior attainment.
1 Hobbs (2003); Feinstein et al (2004)
2 Sammons et al (2007)
3 Hobbs (2003)
4 Sylva et al (2004)
5 Sammons et al (2007)
6 Feinstein et al (2004); Sammons et al (1995)
7 DfES (2004)
8 Sammons et al. (2008); Leithwood et al (2006)
9 Sammons et al (2007)
10 Sammons et al (2007)
11 Sammons et al (2007)
12 From DCSF contextualised value-added modelling for 2007
13 SFR38/2007 National Curriculum Assessment, GCSE and Equivalent Attainment and Post-16 Attainment by Pupil Characteristics, in England 2006/07
14 From DCSF contextualised value-added modelling for 2007
DfES (2004) “Variations in Pupil Progress 2003”. Statistical Bulletin.
Feinstein, L. Duckworth, K, and Sabates, R (2004) A Model of the Intergenerational Transmission of Educational Success. Wider Benefits of Learning Research Report 10. London: Institute of Education.
Hobbs (2003) Understanding socioeconomic group differences in educational achievement: a literature review. Background paper for the Department for Education and Skills/HM Treasury seminar on child poverty and education outcomes, 24 November 2003.
Leithwood, K., Day, C., Sammons, P., Harris, A., and Hopkins, D. (2006) Seven strong claims about successful school leadership. School Leadership and Management, Volume 28, Issue 1 February 2008, pages 27-42
Sammons, P., Hillman, J. and Mortimore, P. (1995). Key Characteristics of Effective Schools: A review of school effectiveness research. London: Ofsted
Sammons et al (2007) Summary Report: Influences on Children’s Attainment and Progress in Key Stage 2: Cognitive Outcomes in Year 5. DCSF Research Report 828.
Sammons, P., Sylva, K., Melhuish, E., Siraj-Blatchford, I., Taggart, B., Barreau, S. and Grabbe, Y. (2008) Effective Pre-school and Primary Education 3-11 Project (EPPE 3-11) The Influence of School and Teaching Quality on Children’s Progress in Primary School. DCSF Research Report RR028
1. Sylva, K., Melhuish, E., Sammons, P., Siraj-Blatchford, I. and Taggart, B. (2004) The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) Project: Final Report.