Press release

Disadvantage limits pupil achievement at every level of English society, says new research

16 December 2016

The impact of the socio-economic background of pupils in England on their mathematics performance can be seen from the most to least disadvantaged, but many other factors are relatively more important to pupil performance in England than in other countries, according to a new report published today by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER).

NFER researchers analysed detailed data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) that provide a unique perspective on the impact of disadvantage on pupils in England¹.

Among the findings in today’s report, Is mathematics education in England working for everyone2:

The report makes a number of recommendations which include:

Ben Durbin, Head of International Education at NFER, says: “Successive governments have, quite rightly, sought to address the gap in educational outcomes between pupils from different socio-economic backgrounds. Most recently, this includes the UK Prime Minister Theresa May articulating her vision for ‘a country that works for everyone’.

“We have found that disadvantage is widespread, affecting a much broader range of the population than is usually considered. This could limit the effectiveness of policy that focuses solely on low income families. International comparisons can be helpful, and in England there are a wide range of factors other than socio-economic background that are relatively more important to pupil performance than in other countries. This is good news, and supports previous NFER research demonstrating the difference that schools can make to improving outcomes for disadvantaged pupils.”

NFER has today also published a second short briefing on the PISA 2015 results which compares and contrasts the performance of the four UK nations, called: Key insights from PISA 2015 for the UK nations.


For further information please contact: Jane Parrack ( 01753 637245, Maryann Thomas 01753 637161 or Pippa Cox 01753 637177

Notes for editors

  1. TIMSS 2015 results were released on 29 November 2016 at; PISA 2015 results were released on 6 December 2016 on the OECD’s site.
  2. Wheater, R., Durbin, B., McNamara, S. and Classick, R. (2016). Is mathematics education in England working for everyone? NFER analysis of the PISA performance of disadvantaged pupils. Slough: NFER.
  3. These include economic factors related to family income, housing and benefits; social factors such as ties to the local community; and cultural factors such as parental education.

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