White working class boys from poor neighbourhoods face a ‘double disadvantage’ of low family income and place poverty – linked to their wider community – which significantly reduces their likelihood of academic study after GCSE, according to new research published by the Sutton Trust today.

Just 29% of this group will continue to take AS, A levels or another qualification after GCSE compared with around half (46%) of white working class boys living in more affluent areas and two-thirds (68%) of boys from more advantaged families.

Background to Success by Professor Pam Sammons, Dr Katalin Toth and Professor Kathy Sylva at the University of Oxford looks at how gender, ethnicity and place shape academic outcomes and draws on data from more than 3,000 young people who have been tracked through school since the age of three for the Effective Pre-School, Primary and Secondary Education (EPPSE) project.

The report finds that boys are significantly less likely to carry on with academic study than girls. Two thirds of girls take AS, A levels or another qualification compared with 55% of all boys. The attainment gap between poorer girls and their richer peers, while still significant, is also slightly less marked for girls, with over half (55%) of disadvantaged girls going on to further study compared with three-quarters (77%) of the non-disadvantaged group.

Today’s report – the second in a series by the EPPSE team for the Sutton Trust – lays bare the powerful influence of different aspects of a student’s background in shaping their educational outcomes and demonstrate that a range of factors remain important. It illustrates how such factors combine to reduce a pupil’s chance of entering further education. Being a boy and disadvantaged, especially being a white boy living in a poor neighbourhood, combine to create a ‘double disadvantage’.

Ahead of this month’s Spending Review, the Sutton Trust is urging government to consider the ‘double disadvantage’ that poor pupils who live in deprived neighbourhoods face. The Trust would like to see higher levels of resources maintained in these areas as the Government reforms school funding and prepares to unveil its spending review. However, the Trust would like a strong focus on outcomes by linking those resources to a similar accountability framework as the pupil premium.

To level the academic playing field, the report also recommends that:

  • There is continued support for the pupil premium for all disadvantaged pupils, including high achieving disadvantaged pupils.
  • Disadvantaged pupils are given support through the premium, which should be used to encourage reading for pleasure, fund educational trips and out-of-school studying opportunities.
  • Groups of students who are at particular risk of poor academic outcomes should be identified and have additional encouragement and support to enable them to engage with activities like reading for pleasure and doing homework that provide academic gains.
  • All pupils should receive a guaranteed level of careers advice from professional and impartial observers.
  • For regions where performance is particularly poor, there should be targeted programmes to drive up standards.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust and of the Education Endowment Foundation, said today:

“It is shocking that so few white working class boys go on to take AS or A-levels. We must redouble our efforts to address these attainment gaps, and ensure that every pupil, regardless of family income, gender or ethnicity has the chance to succeed.

“That’s why in the Spending Review the government must recognise the ‘double disadvantage’ that those in the poorest neighbourhoods face and ensure that extra resources are applied to these children.”

Professor Pam Sammons, lead author of the report, said today:

“Our research shows how different combinations of factors affect young people’s educational life chances. Disadvantaged students, especially white UK boys, have poorer outcomes and living in a poor neighbourhood compounds this.

“Unfortunately, although the pupil premium helps schools by providing extra resources for poor students, Local Authorities serving the poorest communities have been hardest hit by budget cuts during the last five years.

“Policy makers need to recognise what we term the ‘double disadvantage’ to address the way family and neighbourhood disadvantage combine to reduce the chances of academic success, and to promote better opportunities and outcomes for those most at risk.”


  1. The Sutton Trust is a foundation set up in 1997, dedicated to improving social mobility through education. It has published over 160 research studies and funded and evaluated programmes that have helped hundreds of thousands of young people of all ages, from early years through to access to the professions.
  2. Background to Success by Professor Pam Sammons, Dr Katalin Toth and Professor Kathy Sylva, from the Department of Education at the University of Oxford, draws on data from a longitudinal study of more than 3,000 young people which started when they were aged three in 1998. This is the second in a series of reports for the Sutton Trust from the Effective Pre-School, Primary and Secondary Education project. This first, Subject to Background, was published this March.
  3. The Education Endowment Foundation, the Sutton Trust’s sister organisation, was set up in 2011 as lead foundation in partnership with Impetus Trust, with a Department for Education grant of £125m. It is dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement. Since its launch the EEF has awarded £57 million to 100 projects working with over 620,000 pupils in over 4,900 schools across England to find evidence for the best ways of raising attainment.
  4.  The sample for this research is drawn from the Effective Pre-School, Primary and Secondary Education Project, a major large-scale, longitudinal study of the progress and development of children from pre-school through to post-compulsory education in England. It has investigated various aspects of pre-school, primary and secondary school provision that shape children’s attainment, progress and development over successive phases of education since the age of three.

The original sample of 3,172 children was assessed at the start of pre-school, and their development was monitored until they entered school around the age of five. The sample was followed up across primary school into adolescence and children were assessed again at key points until the end of KS4 in secondary school. These young people were most recently followed through their final year of compulsory schooling and on to their post 16 educational, training and employment choices.

This study investigates these students’ destinations, their AS and A-level take up and attainment in KS5. Data provided by the DfE‘s National Pupil Database were merged into the EPPSE dataset to examine these students’ A level and AS achievement and the factors that predict academic success. Inline with national averages, just over 60% of the main tracked sample went on to continue their education beyond the age of 16 and 37% took A-levels. Measures involved include gender, ethnicity, place poverty and social disadvantage.

For place poverty, two measures were used based on home address postcode – the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI) and the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) – were added to the EPPSE dataset. For social disadvantage, the researchers looked at free school meals and other individual measures like family socio-economic status (SES) based on parents’ occupations, parents’ salary, parents’ educational qualifications, and parents’ employment status.

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