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Missing Talent

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Overview

Every year there are high achievers at primary school, pupils scoring in the top 10% nationally in their Key Stage 2 (KS2) tests, yet who five years later receive a set of GCSE results that place them outside the top 25% of pupils. There are about 7,000 such pupils each year, 15% of all those we term as highly able. We call these pupils our ‘missing talent’ and in this research brief we explore who they are, their routes of study at secondary school and how we might best raise their aspirations and achievements by the age of 16.

Key findings

  • 15% of highly able pupils who score in the top 10% nationally at age 11 fail to achieve in the top 25% at GCSE
  • Boys, and particularly pupil premium eligible boys, are most likely to be in this missing talent group
  • Highly able pupil premium pupils achieve half a grade less than other highly able pupils, on average, with a very long tail to underachievement
  • Highly able pupil premium pupils are less likely to be taking GCSEs in history, geography, triple sciences or a language

Recommendations

  • The Government should implement the recommendations of Sutton Trust’s Mobility Manifesto to develop an effective national programme for highly able state school pupils, with ring-fenced funding to support evidence-based activities and tracking of pupils’ progress.
  • All schools must be made accountable for the progress of their most able pupils. These pupils should have access to triple sciences and must study a broad traditional curriculum, including a language and humanity, which widens their future educational opportunities. The Government should report the (3-year average) Progress 8 figures for highly able pupils in performance tables. Schools where highly able pupils currently underperform should be supported through the designation of another local exemplar school. In the small number of areas where there is no exemplary good practice, a one-off centralised support mechanism needs to be set-up.
  • Exemplar schools already successfully catering for highly able pupils that are located in areas of high missing talent should be invited to consider whether they are able to deliver a programme of extra-curricular support to raise horizons and aspirations for children living in the wider area.
  • Highly able pupils who receive Pupil Premium funding are at high risk of underperforming at age 16. Schools should be encouraged to use the Pupil Premium funding for these pupils to improve the support they are able to give them.