PISA 2018 additional analyses: What differentiates disadvantaged pupils who do well in PISA from those who do not?

Rachel Classick, Geeta Gambhir, Jose Liht, Caroline Sharp, Rebecca Wheater

10 February 2021


In this report we analysed data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2018 exploring the differences between disadvantaged pupils who do well in reading, maths and science and those who do not in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Key Findings

How well are disadvantaged pupils supported?

  • Encouragingly, in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, the 2018 average scores for disadvantaged pupils in maths and reading were significantly higher than in previous cycles.
  • There was no aspect of reading in which disadvantaged pupils in England, Wales or Northern Ireland were disproportionately weak.
  • In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, around a third of disadvantaged pupils achieved at a level considered by PISA to equip them for success in later life. These disadvantaged pupils who, despite the odds, did well in PISA were defined as ‘resilient’.

What characteristics of resilient pupils set them apart from similarly performing pupils from more advantaged backgrounds?

  • For the most part, there were no attitudinal differences found between resilient pupils and their similarly achieving, more affluent peers. It was mainly indicators of family poverty which distinguished these pupils.

In what circumstances do disadvantaged pupils tend to overcome barriers to perform better?

  • In England, Northern Ireland and Wales, resilient pupils tended to use metacognitive strategies and were less likely to believe that intelligence can’t be changed.