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Born to Fail? Improving the literacy and numeracy skills of education’s Left Behind

1 June 2021 - 1 June 2024

PI/s in Exeter: Dr Lee Elliot Major

Research partners: Dr Sam Parsons, Centre for Longitudinal Studies, UCL

Sponsor(s): The Monday Charitable Trust

About the research

The aim of this work is to help improve the outcomes for the third of pupils who leave compulsory schooling every year lacking the basic English and maths skills. This is a three-year research project funded by the Monday Charitable Trust that will produce a series of reports to engage policy makers on this national challenge. For this project the Left Behind are defined as those teenagers in England who failed to secure a grade 4 or above in both their English Language and Maths GCSEs (with equivalent benchmarks for those in the rest of the UK). The study will use the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) that tracks c18,000 children born in 2000/2 who took public examinations at age 16 in 2016/17. It will assess the backgrounds of children who failed to gain good grades in English language and Maths GCSEs and consider their later life outcomes in education and employment. It will also examine how the pandemic has differentially impacted on the Left Behind. It will also use the 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS70) and the 1989/90 Next Steps survey to consider previous generations of children who failed to gain English and maths qualifications. Using cognitive assessment data collected during childhood and adolescence the research will track the literacy and numeracy trajectories of children from different income backgrounds. It will document the family and individual characteristics associated with children who ‘buck the trend’ and achieve well despite their backgrounds. These are the so-called ‘protective characteristics’, and may include parents reading regularly to children, the home-learning environment, regular bedtime, parents interest/involvement with their child’ education or types of schooling or other factors. These could point to possible policy lessons for children more widely. It will also document the particular risk factors associated with becoming the Left behind at earlier age-points. The project will consider for several important policy areas, and recommend evidence-informed reforms, citing good policy practice in other countries where appropriate.