Success Does Depend on Your Parents’ Intelligence: Exam Results Are Influenced by Genes, Not Teaching

Sarah Griffiths, Daily Mail (London), July 25, 2013

Parents’ intelligence really does have a huge bearing on a teenagers’ success at school, a leading geneticist has claimed.

Professor Robert Plomin, from Kings College London, found inherited intelligence could account for nearly 60 per cent of a teenager’s GCSE results, while the school environment, including the quality of teaching, only influences results by a third.

His study was based upon long-term analysis of twins and suggests that their genes play a larger part than the education they receive when it came to their achievement in schools.

Professor Plomin, from the university’s Institute of Psychology, led the research that studied 11,000 twins born in England and Wales between 1994 and 1996. He has since talked to the Department for Education about his findings.

The Telegraph reported that ministers and senior officials are ‘seriously considering’ how the findings could be used in future reforms of the education system.

Professor Plomin told The Spectator that education professionals have been too fast to dismiss the influence of genetics in a bid to avoid labeling children as soon as they start school.

However, he believes that his controversial findings can be used in a positive way to develop education tailored to a child’s unique needs, rather than following a one-size-fits-all curriculum.

In the future, Professor Plomin thinks that genetic scanning could eventually be used to identity particularly gifted children or those with academic weaknesses.

He said that children already label each other, whether it is by academic or sporting ability, and that by reading a child’s genome, adults can predict and therefore influence a child’s academic progression, as well as prevent disease.

Professor Plomin told the magazine: ‘If we can read their DNA, we can tailor the teaching to help a kid with learning difficulties.

‘Surely it’s worse to just sit in a classroom and sink, unable to read because no one has identified that you might have trouble.’

His Twins Early Development Study, which has not yet been published, examined the GCSE results of 11,117 twins and found that their genes had a ‘substantial’ influence on their performance.

The study found that the twins’ genes had a bearing on 52 per cent of their marks in English, 55 percent in maths and 58 per cent in science.

Taking an average across all the subjects, inherited ability swayed 58 per cent of the teenagers’ test scores at the age of 16, while the school environment and therefore the quality of teaching only accounted for 36 per cent.

It could be argued, based on the results of the research, that the present school system is doomed to fail at closing the gap in results between the cleverest and weakest students and it seems that home environment has a limited influence too.

Professor Plomin said: ‘Much more of the variance in GCSE scores can be attributed to genetics than to school or family environment.’

This is not the first study to suggest a strong link between a children’s genes and their intelligence and that the connection may become more noticeable with age.

He added that the genetic influence of a person’s IQ increases as they age, with some scientists considering that it becomes 80 per cent inheritable in later life.

The theory is that small genetic differences become larger as a person ages and creates environments correlated to their genotype.

For example, clever people might seek out intellectually stimulating pursuits like reading and socialise with like-minded people.

A Department for Education source told The Telegraph: ‘As we learn more from science, a decentralised school system with great teachers providing personalised learning will be even more important, so that teachers can make decisions for the best interests of each child.’

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