Every year approximately 7,000 pupils, or 15% of the highly able students, fail to realise their potential. At age 11 they achieve SATs results that place them in the top 10% nationally but by 16 they achieve a set of GCSE results that leaves them outside the top 25%. Put another way, they go from achieving the highest possible results in year 6 to achieving just above the expected standard in year 11. (The Sutton Trust, “Missing Talent”, 2015)

This underperformance can be attributed to a number of factors specific to the individual student, however, with the 5A* – C measure only up until recently being the prevailing accountability framework, it is arguable that these students have been falling short primarily because they are not being challenged to perform at the peak of their capabilities.

Such a level of underachievement becomes all the more pronounced when contrasted with the performance of advantaged students of equal ability at KS2 who routinely go on to achieve excellent

GCSE and A Level results, typically at schools that are not held to account by the same 5A* – C measure. (The Sutton Trust, “Missing Talent” 2015)

Although the introduction of the Attainment 8 and Progress 8 accountability measures encourages greater focus at all ends of the ability spectrum, the impact of the onus placed on schools to achieve above national floor targets in view of the 5A* – C benchmark means that the range of results-driven practices targeted at those students at the C/D borderline threshold cannot be quickly reversed to benefit a wider populous of students. Moreover, many schools will encounter difficulties in trying to extend their in-house resources to cater for larger student cohorts whilst maintaining a relative level of impact.

The disparity goes beyond attainment, however, with stark differences apparent in terms of subject options that facilitate access to study the best undergraduate courses at the most renowned institutions. Whilst advantage students choose more reputable A Level subjects that enhance their prospects beyond school, disadvantaged students find their opportunities greatly diminished by comparison, having chosen relatively less impressive subjects, settling for far less than their early promise indicated they were capable of. (The Sutton Trust, “Subject to Background”, 2015) 

This wasted potential has a dual impact: in the first instance, the individual is consigned to live out a life way within the bounds of their capabilities, having attained mediocre results that are unrepresentative of the early potential they showed; in addition, society as a whole is at a loss from this unrealised potential, given the resultant high economic cost of reduced tax revenue and, in the worst cases, increased state dependence. (The Sutton Trust, “Missing Talent”, 2015)