Do our genes determine GCSE success?

Academic success at the end of compulsory education may be down to genetics.
31 July 2015
By Jo Kerr.


Schoolchildren writing on a blackboard


Students and parents up and down the UK are anxiously awaiting the release blackboardof GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) results in less than three weeks time, but how much of each student's academic success is out of their control? A team of scientists at Kings College London suggest that genes inherited from our parents play a decisive role in determining academic success in all subjects studied at the end of compulsory education. From mathematics to music, educational achievement is highly heritable, with many of the same genes influencing success in all subjects.

Genetics are known to influence a child's intelligence, however school achievement as measured by national curriculum scores are also very highly heritable. Professor Robert Plomin states 'there's over 80 subjects that people can take for GCSE's, and all of them are highly heritable, and that surprised me'. When the effect of intelligence is removed using reasoning tests as a measure of intelligence, over half of the difference between GCSE marks is a result of genetic variation, while only 20 percent can be explained by differences in schooling. Importantly, educational ability is not driven by a single gene that could be easily isolated; hundreds or even thousands of genes are responsible for determining academic success.

GCSE exam results play a pivotal role in the future career or educational pathway chosen by young people, therefore understanding the cause of the disparity in GCSE results could build towards implementation of more effective personalised learning programmes.

Listen to Kat Arney's interview with Professor Robert Plomin here:


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