Professor David Jesson of the University of York has expressed concern that talent is ‘going to waste’ because state schools fail to develop the potential of more-able students

Speaking at the national conference of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, of which he is also an associate director, Professor Jesson highlighted the contrast between the progress of very able students at private and state schools.

As judged by test marks at the end of Key Stage 2, at age 11 there were 30,000 very able students in state schools and 7,000 in independent schools. But at age 18 only 1,300 state school pupils obtained three A grades at A-level in comparison with 7,600 students from independent schools. In addition, 44% of Oxbridge entrants came from private schools, whose students make up only 7% of total numbers.

Professor Jesson underlined the fact that the great majority of very able students attended state schools. He said that the idea that students at independent schools were brighter was a ‘myth’ and condemned the divergence between the two groups of bright students as evidence of a ‘severe talent drain’.

At the same time he stressed the opportunities for state schools to serve their brightest students better through:

  • identification
  • links with the Sutton Trust and the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth (NAGTY)
  • sharing good practice
  • subject choice.

Professor Jesson, who is an expert in assessment, said it was vital that schools should have access to KS2 tests to identify the very able and set goals for them. The Specialist Schools and Academies Trust is also developing non-verbal reasoning tests to help identify the top 5% of students. The combined data may be used to make admissions to NAGTY.

The data used by Professor Jesson at the conference was drawn from ongoing research that will be published soon.

Professor Deborah Eyre, director of NAGTY acknowledged the significance of Professor Jesson’s findings but commented: ‘Underperformance for gifted individuals in state schools is not inevitable. Some schools, including NAGTY ambassador schools, achieve the same outcomes for their most able students as the private sector, whilst at the same time providing for the full range of their students…’

‘In addition, the HMCI’s Annual Report shows a steady improvement in provision for gifted and talented pupils with provision rated as good or better in two-thirds of the schools inspected by Ofsted in 2004-05.’

Professor Jesson’s conference presentation can be viewed via