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In Conversation with… Anna Vignoles:
Improving the educational outcomes of poor students: a tale of contradictions

Over the long term, the U.K. has markedly increased the education participation rate of students from poorer households. Lower income students are staying in education longer and achieving better outcomes. Yet there is more work still to be done to narrow the gap in outcomes between richer and poorer students, which remains stark. Many of the barriers to doing this, and indeed the solutions, are not obvious. Schools make far less difference to pupil outcomes than one might think, yet successive governments have focused very heavily on school reform as the potential solution. Accountability systems can very easily hurt the very students they are designed to protect. Additional resources don’t always produce better outcomes for all students. High tuition fees are not the biggest barrier facing poor students in terms of getting into university. Even when lower income students do get a university degree, it is not enough to level the playing field with their richer peers when it comes to labour market outcomes. The literature is full of such contrary findings but we do now understand far better how we might both improve achievement and narrow the socio economic gap in education outcomes.


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Anna Vignoles, Professor

Director at The Leverhulme Trust

Anna was appointed Director of the Leverhulme Trust in 2021. She previously held professorships at the University of Cambridge and UCL Institute of Education and was a Research Fellow at the London School of Economics. Anna’s research has...