How do disadvantaged pupils succeed against the odds?

EPPSE  finds that supportive parents and high quality teachers  important for success


The OECD has recently published a study, related to PISA, which found that as many as a third of children from disadvantaged backgrounds can overcome  socio-economic  disadvantage to succeed  at school. Poverty doesn’t equal destiny in education.

The OECD labelled these pupils ‘resilient’ and said that one reason they were resilient was that they  regularly attended classes.  A new study from EPPSE and analysed by the Institute of Education finds that  parent power and high quality teachers also helps  disadvantaged children get ahead. It found that  parents whose children succeed against the odds of social and economic disadvantage “actively cultivate” their offspring, nurturing their skills and allowing them to benefit from the education system.

The highly-respected Effective Pre-School, Primary and Secondary Education (EPPSE) 3-16 project has followed the progress of more than 3,000 children since 1997, from the age of 3 to 16. Its new report on performing against the odds shows how parents, teachers, networks of family and friends and children themselves interact and contribute to young people’s success, even when the children are from working class backgrounds. The research highlights the importance of recruiting the best teachers to schools in disadvantaged communities and demonstrates that additional support classes are crucial for the children in these schools. The researchers also say that schools and communities should provide extra educational experiences for “vulnerable” children.
They found that teachers who helped these children were able to explain clearly and were approachable when things were difficult to understand. Successful children showed determination and self-belief.  Parents of children who succeed against the odds set and reinforce high standards for behaviour and academic aspirations and explicitly express their high esteem for education. “Even if parents did not have much money or high levels of education, they strongly believed in their own ability to support their child’s learning,” said Iram Siraj-Blatchford of the Institute of Education, London, who led the Department for Education-funded research. “If they had a gap in their own knowledge, they found others who could help.”  Children who have had this nurturing are primed to make the most of the high-quality pre-schools their parents carefully chose for them when they start school and to carry on doing well. The researchers say that early assessment and a personalised pre-school curriculum could help more children master important school-relevant skills that help them to succeed against the odds.  The research shows that children seen as clever and hard- working, with a positive attitude, developed a more positive self-image as learners which was then constantly reinforced by those at home and school. This positive perception of children’s ability was reinforced by the perception of parents and children that ‘ability to learn’ was something that could be shaped and wasn’t a ‘given’. “In contrast, children who experienced learning difficulties or were not seen as particularly clever often developed a negative self-image, resulting in or reinforcing ineffective problem-solving strategies, diminished motivation for school and learning, and a sense of helplessness,” says the report.  The researchers argue that the importance of teachers in supporting and encouraging “vulnerable” children and increasing their positive self- image whilst avoiding negative expectations and stereotypes has implications for recruiting the best teachers into schools in disadvantaged communities.

The implications of the study according to the IOE are:

• Recruit the best teachers to schools in disadvantaged areas;

• Assess children early and provide additional support classes and teaching where necessary;

• Emphasise “active cultivation” and “parent power” in parenting classes and programmes;
• Promote “communities of learning” in the classroom so students can take responsibility for their and others’ learning;

• Schools and communities should provide extra educational experiences especially for “vulnerable” children.

Download the Research Report (DfE- RR128) and Research Brief (DfE – RB128): Performing against the odds: developmental trajectories of children in the EPPSE 3-16 study from:

A book based on the research, Social class and education inequality: the impact of parents and schools, is to be published by Cambridge University Press.



  1. I have been working as a 1:1 English tutor in secondary schools.The students I work with have many disadvantages in my eyes; (broken homes,dole dependency,never had a bedtime story read to them in their lives.) I can’t “make a difference” as they say. I can only try to give the students some confidence in their voice but it’s a bit late by 15, in many cases.

    • I am sure you do make a big difference but you are right that early interventions are very important

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