Academic ability is not fixed at birth 1

May 29, 2008

The Western preoccupation with IQ levels is one of the main reasons why we have such class bias in the English education system ("Elite institutions' class bias simply reflects 'meritocracy'", 22 May). Other countries have moved away from this early 20th-century idea and are reaping the rewards. In the league tables for educational performance, the top ten countries have more modern views about who can achieve and how. They are not held back by ideas that suggest that it's all a "done deal" at birth.

Bruce Charlton is also out of step with most of his contemporaries. Not only has James Flynn shown IQ internationally to be on the rise and others demonstrated that individual IQ scores can be raised through training, but research into high performance shows most researchers stressing a mix of cognitive and non-cognitive factors. According to research by K. Anders Ericsson, exceptional performance is the result of training and temperament. Any student from any class background could excel if given the correct educational diet.

What is really dangerous about Charlton's comments is that some will use them to be complacent about the status quo in Britain. Systematic intervention programmes have shown definitively that when given access to an academic track, children from all backgrounds can succeed. There is ample evidence to show that the best comprehensives are just as good at getting their students to achieve three As at A level. What about the missing 3,000 pupils from state schools identified by the Sutton Trust? They have three As but no place at Oxbridge.

Deborah Eyre, Director, National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth, 2002-07, University of Warwick.

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