Statistics of Education; the characteristics of high attainers

The Characteristics of High Attainers

What the resource is:
The report analyses

  1. the characteristics of high attaining pupils
    • e.g. pupils eligible for free school meals are far less likely to be high attaining pupils
  2. to what extent high attainment is sustained through secondary education
    • e.g. interestingly the movement of pupils in and out of the high attaining group is greater than many teachers think.
  3. whether high attainers do well in all subjects
    • This chapter looks at questions like, ‘Are high attaining pupils in Key stage 2 mathematics or English more likely to be high attaining overall?'
  4. what subjects are chosen by high attainers
    • eg Data from the Longitudinal Survey of Young People in England (LSYPE) showed that Key Stage 4 high attaining pupils' most-liked subjects in Year 9 were physical education and art; least favoured subjects were modern languages and mathematics
  5. the kind of secondary schools attended by high attainers
    • e.g. high attaining pupils are four times more likely to move to the independent sector after key stage 2
  6. which type of pupils tend to take higher tier papers
  7. the characteristics of Early Takers and AS level entrants
    • e.g. Pupils who take the AS qualification in Key Stage 4 perform considerably better than the rest of the cohort.
  8. the extent to which high attainers are classified as gifted and talented

Not surprisingly if a pupil is a high attainer in Key Stage 4 they are more likely than not to have been selected by their school as gifted and Talented, however, only 53% of the high attaining pupils are registered as G&T.

Key findings or focus.

  • girls, pupils who are not eligible for free school meals (non-FSM), pupils living in more affluent areas and pupils from the following ethnic groups: Chinese, White and Asian, Indian are highly represented
  • most high attaining pupils in Key Stage 2 do not remain in the high attaining group throughout Key Stages 3 and 4
    • There is a very informative tree diagram in the report that displays clearly the conditional likelihoods of pupils being in the high attaining groups at different stages.  
  • pupils with English as an additional language (EAL) are more likely to be high attainers at Key Stage 4 than pupils who do not have EAL.
  • high attainers are significantly more likely to enjoy science than non high attainershigh attaining pupils who take a GCSE subject early do no better than high attaining pupils who take  the same GCSE subject in year 11

The key findings are reported in terms of likelihoods. For example, one of the findings is that Chinese pupils are 4 times more likely to be high attainers than White British pupils. This quantitative reporting makes it easier for policy advisers to determine cost effective ways to intervene.

The quality, authority and credibility of the resource.
This is a very authoritative and comprehensive report.
The very large number of pupils analysed ensures that the findings are reliable.  The valid questions being addressed by the researchers are of interest to a large number of educators and policy advisers. Policy advisers will be able to examine the quantitative nature of the findings and determine which intervention strategies will be the most cost effective.
Large cohorts of pupils were tracked over a period of five years and the findings on the nature and changeability of the high attaining group were most authoritative.  
The findings of the report are accessible to the vast majority of readers. Although advanced statistical techniques were employed to analyse the data, the findings are, for the most part, written in non-technical language. The reader will need to understand no more than relative likelihoods to interpret the findings.

The implications for ITE tutors/mentors.
ITE tutors will find it a most thought provoking report.
A number of the findings are particularly interesting in that they are at odds with commonly held views of the characteristics of high attainers.  A consideration of factors influencing the identification of pupils a gifted and talented may also be worth investigation.The fact, for example, that pupils who have English as an additional language(EAL) are significantly more likely to be high attainers would surprise many.  
Before trainees start school experience, ITE tutors would do well to make the key findings known to  students.

The relevance to ITE students.
ITE students need to know the factors that influence pupils' attainment in school. In particular they need to understand the rationale for the intervention strategies that the government is promoting.
If students are to make a difference to pupils' attainment they need to understand the factors that do and the factors that do not influence pupils' attainment.

Reviewed by:
Mike Fletcher


DfES(2005b), ‘Statistics of Education: the characteristics of Low Attaining Pupils', Statistics of Education Bulletin 02/05

DfES(2006b), ‘Statistics of Education: trends in Attainment Gaps,' Statistics of education bulletin 02/06

Authors :

National Statistics office

Source :

Publisher :

Department for Education and Science (DfES)

Article Id :


Date Posted: