Parents' class is the key in England's exams system

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The Independent Online

English schoolchildren's success in academic tests and exams is more closely linked to their parents' background than in any other country, a survey finds today.

The study, by the Sutton Trust education charity, reveals a 47 percentage-point performance gap in tests between 14-year-olds with degree-educated parents and those from homes where parents left school without any A-levels. This is more than twice the size of the gap in Australia and compares with 37 percentage points in Germany and 43 percentage points in the USA.

In England, children from homes with highly educated parents were five times more likely than children from homes with less well-educated parents to be among top performers in maths tests. That is double the gap found in Belgium and a considerably higher probability than in Australia, Canada or Italy.

However, there are signs that the gap has closed among children educated exclusively under Labour. In tests for 11-year-olds, the gap between those from rich and poor homes has narrowed from 37 percentage points to 27 percentage points in two decades.

In addition, a study of 20 countries linking the number of books at home with test scores showed England and Scotland at the bottom of the international ranking.

Sir Peter Lampl, the millionaire philanthropist who set up the trust to campaign for better access to education for poorer pupils, said: "While there are some signs of progress, we are still not serving the needs of the current crop of school pupils as well as we should and parental background remains a much more significant determiner of children's life chances in the UK than elsewhere."