The influence of context on attainment in primary school: interactions between children, family and school contexts

The influence of context image

What the resource is:
This resource is one of a series of research reports published by the Centre for Research on the Wider Benefits of Learning, Institute of Education, London. The report explores the influence of social and personal development which takes place in the home and school environments and how it may help influence children's achievement. The report considers the relative importance of four different contexts, or ‘spheres of influence' on pupil achievement in England at Key Stage 2 (age 10/11). The four contexts are: background socio-demographic features; parental support and parent-child relationships; the nature of the school and its population; and individual child ability. The study uses background data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). It examines the relationships between the contexts outlined above and the performance in English, maths and science Year 6 SATS of three cohorts of pupils who took the tests in 2002, 2003 and 2004.


The aims of the resource:
The resource aims to clarify how the contexts outlined above influence and interact with each other to shape, support, sustain or hold back positive development.


Key findings or focus:
Good quality ‘contexts' are important:

  • pupils with ‘better' individual, school and family background and experience have higher scores in Key Stage 2 assessments in English, maths and science;
  • pupils' capabilities, and previous attainment, are the most important factors in predicting KS2 attainment across all three core subjects. This is followed by social and economic family background, then family relationships with school quality being the least significant factor.


The contexts are related and each context is affected by its relationship to the others:

  • pupils who have good experiences in one context are also more likely to have good experiences in the other contexts. The relationship is strongest between factors such as parental income and education, and family relationships and behaviours;
  • for those pupils whose contexts are poor, improvements in other areas of their lives make much more difference to their Key Stage 2 attainment - although the report does not identify specific examples or attempt to ‘untangle' this relationship;
  • social and economic family background is more important for girls for both Key Stage 2 English and maths attainment, whereas for boys, family relationships and behaviours have a greater influence on attainment across all three Key Stage 2 subjects.


No one thing is likely to make a radical transformation for the better in young lives:

  • as the four contexts are so closely inter-related, changes in one area of  a child's life (for better or worse) may affect their attainment but may also place more importance on other contexts as a means of supporting development;
  • each group of children will need relevant types and levels of support if greater equality (including in gender) is to be achieved;
  • personalised learning and flexible models of child support, influenced by Every Child Matters (ECM) and The Children's Plan (DCSF, 2007), are supported by the findings.


The quality, authority and credibility of the resource from your subject perspective in relation to ITE:
The study uses a reasonable sample size (all state schools in the four local education authorities covering the former Avon area: Bristol, South Gloucestershire, North Somerset and Bath, and North East Somerset) but, although there are demographic differences between these areas, they are all geographically located in the South-West of England. In addition, although a sound methodology is used, the use of SATs as a means of measuring pupil achievement, rather than other more standardised tests (such as those produced by NFER) could be debated.


The implications for ITE tutors/mentors:
The resource is very detailed, but the discussion in section 4 may be useful as a summary and a source of related academic references for student written assignments. In supporting work in the classroom the report is useful, as it reinforces the potential benefits for pupils if students undertake personalised planning with the focus on the needs of the individual. It may be, however, that tutors (and indeed students) would find the research reports provided in the Cambridge Primary Review more accessible (when available), as well as providing supplementary reading.


The relevance to ITE students:
Family background and experience are important indicators of success, so trainees need to ensure they are familiar with this information, both to support those from ‘better' backgrounds, but perhaps more important, to support those less fortunate. In addition, they need to realise that there is not one clear solution which can be applied in all cases which will raise attainment. Trainees need to be aware that learning is a complex area where changes in one area can affect other areas, both positively and negatively. It reinforces the idea that every child is different and needs individual support.


Reviewed by:

Dr Gary Beauchamp