A strong link between social disadvantage and low academic achievement has been found by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
The analysis of tests undertaken in 2009 has found that on average across OECD countries, disadvantaged students are twice as likely to be among the poorest performers in reading compared to better-off pupils.
However, the study shows there is nothing inevitable about this connection between social background and achievement. In Shanghai in China, South Korea, Canada, Japan, Finland and the Netherlands pupils can succeed regardless of their socio-economic background.
Andreas Schleicher, the OECD's Special Adviser on Education, says a long-term characteristic of the UK's education system has been social division, with a polarisation between the results of rich and poor pupils.
At the National Literacy Trust we know that a child's socio-economic status can impact on their chances of gaining literacy skills and succeeding at school and beyond. A child from a poor home is much more likely to suffer the effects of intergenerational literacy issues. Their parents may have low literacy themselves and lack the confidence to support their children's language development and reading. Even by the time they start school a child from a poor home has heard a quarter of the words heard by their better-off peers. Our research has found that children from poor homes are also less likely to have books of their own, desks or computers, and less likely to have visited a bookshop or a library.
Our work focuses on the country's most disadvantaged communities in order to support children who might otherwise struggle to gain the vital literacy skills they need. Our grassroots interventions give children books to keep and develop their reading and writing. We also help parents to support their children's reading and provide workshops to prepare struggling teenagers for the workplace. We work in partnership with hundreds of schools, providing the latest thinking and resources to ensure disadvantaged children have the same chance to gain literacy skills as other pupils.