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Socio-economic status and school

In the UK 14 million people live in poverty. Four million of these are children. The level of child poverty is rising, and the rate is projected to accelerate in coming years.  Growing up in a deprived environment can have a profoundly negative effect on a child’s development.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Growing up in poverty can have a profound impact on cognitive development learning. But why? And which elements of a child’s environment have the strongest influence on their development? Much of our work tries to answer these questions. We do this by collecting our own data from children living in and around Cambridge, but also by using national level data.


UK schools are tasked with closing the so-called attainment gap – the group-level performance difference between children growing up in wealthy environments and those growing up in relative poverty. Successive policy interventions, like Free School Meals and Pupil Premium, are designed to target children from lower income homes and improve outcomes for these children. 

Here are a couple of key questions that we try and address in our current research: 


i) What are the most 'active ingredients' in a child's environment, and do they have specific effects on different elements of child development or is it more general? 

ii) What factors moderate this impact? In other words, why are some children more affected by their environments than others? 

iii) What role does the developing brain play in explaining why a child's environment impacts their cognitive development?

Doctoral student Alex Anwyl-Irvine gives a talk about one one of the studies from his PhD, exploring how a child's SES influences their ability to decode sounds 

A selection of materials from talks and workshops

Here are some of the materials that we have used recently for a wide variety of different audiences, including the public and educational professionals

Slides from inset training workshop - professional training for teachers

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