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Increasing parents’ education improves educational attainment for future generations

Press release issued: 16 January 2013

Increasing the minimum school leaving age had a positive effect on the educational attainment of future generations, according to research published today [16 Jan]. The University of Bristol study found increasing parents’ education by one year improved their children’s grades by as much as one grade in two GCSEs.

Increasing the minimum school leaving age had a positive effect on the educational attainment of future generations, according to research published today [16 Jan]. The University of Bristol study found increasing parents’ education by one year improved their children’s grades by as much as one grade in two GCSEs.

As the country embarks on plans to raise the participation age of young people in education or training to age 18 by 2015 it is worth exploring the effects that past moves to increase educational participation had among young people.

Researchers from the University’s Centre for Market and Public Organisation compared the education results of children whose parents were affected by the 1972 Government reform that raised the minimum school leaving age from 15 to 16, with children whose parents left school just before this change.

The findings reveal the impact of having a parent remain in school an additional year was to improve their children’s results by one grade in two GCSEs or two grades in one GCSE.  The extent of this positive effect in children’s educational attainment was found to be maintained from pre-school assessment stage (around age 5) right through to GCSE exams (age 16). 

Using data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), which tracked 19,966 children born in the Avon area of England between 1991 and 1993, the team compared results from tests taken at different ages as the children grew up.

After examining the results of children’s pre-school assessments the researchers found children whose parents stayed on in education scored significantly higher than children whose parents left school at an earlier age. This was also the same for Key Stage tests taken at ages 7, 11 and 14, and when GCSEs and equivalent exams are taken at age 16, the magnitude of the effect remaining about the same at each age.

Around one third of young people in 1972 stayed on the extra year as a result of the policy change, the rest stayed on already. So looking more closely at the affected group by excluding those doing A-levels, the impact is increased to the equivalent of one grade higher in three GCSEs. 

Professor Paul Gregg, lead author of the study, said: “The children of more educated parents go on themselves to higher educational achievement. This does not in itself mean that requiring young people to stay on in school improves their children’s attainment. The results here suggest that as a result of attaining more education, parents with higher levels of schooling provide a better childhood experience and home environment and consequently their children do better in school.”

The findings are important for the Government’s social mobility strategy as they show the full impact of extra parental education and the knock-on effect in their children’s attainment, which is maintained as the children age.

Professor Gregg added: “The proposed further raising of the school leaving age to 18 by 2015 (that is full-time education or an apprenticeship) should lead to benefits not just for the generation affected but, also in the future, for their children.”

The paper, entitled ‘Early, late or never? When does parental education impact child outcomes?’ by Professor Paul Gregg (University of Bath, University of Bristol CMPO), Dr Matt Dickson (University of Bath, University of Bristol CMPO and IZA) and Harriet Robinson (University of Bristol CMPO), is available to download from the Centre for Market and Public Organisation website.