Disability Differentials in Educational Attainment in England


Researchers from the University of Warwick and the London School of Economics set out to discover how academic and social influences contribute to the educational outcomes and choices of young people with disabilities.

Report: Disability Differentials in Educational Attainment in England

Authors: Stella Chatzitheochari and Lucinda Platt

Published by: The British Journal of Sociology, April 2018

SUMMARY

The researchers analysed data from the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England, a study that followed approximately 16,000 adolescents from 658 secondary schools aged 13 to 20.

The authors examined whether differences in educational attainment among young people with disabilities are solely a result of poor performance at key stages of their school career or whether other social factors are at play. They found disabled adolescents are less likely to pursue an academic pathway than their peers despite the fact many impairments are not inherently linked to cognitive limitations.

The researchers found only 26 per cent of disabled young people achieve Level 2 qualifications - five or more A*-C grades including English and Mathematics - compared with 67 per cent of non-disabled young people. Those young people with disabilities who do achieve Level 2 are less likely to stay on to take A-levels than young people without disabilities. Only 75 per cent of disabled students who have done well at GCSE continue in full-time upper secondary education, compared with 85 per cent of non-disabled students. Disabled young people who do A-levels are then less likely to go to the university.

The gap between the proportion of young people with disabilities progressing to A-Levels and then to university, and their non-disabled peers, could largely be explained by differences in school performance between the two groups. However, the researchers also found some of this gap could be explained by social factors.

Disabled young people were 15 percentage points more likely to have low expectations about going to university than non-disabled students of similar family and socio-economic backgrounds. Disabled young people achieving the same academically as non-disabled young people were still 10 percentage points more likely to have low expectations about university.

Looking into what was driving these low expectations, the researchers tested a number of factors and found these accounted for 84 per cent of the expectation gap, while 16 per cent remained unexplained. Of those factors that could be measured, prior attainment accounted for 39 per cent of the gap: young people had low expectations about going to university because of past school attainment, while 61 per cent of young people had low expectations about going to university because their parents had low expectations.

When it came to achieving Level 2 qualifications, the researchers found the factors they looked at accounted for 78 per cent of the gap between disabled young people and their peers. Of those, prior attainment accounted for 79 per cent and lower aspirations for 15 per cent.

IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE

This study shows disabled young people's expectations are influenced by those of their parents, who have lower expectations for them regardless of educational attainment. This can result from both informal and institutional labelling and parents' desire to protect disabled children from anticipated discrimination or stigma at university or in the workplace. Work to raise the educational expectations of disabled young people and their parents could have a positive effect on their achievement.

FURTHER READING

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