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expert reaction to GCSEs and genetics

A study in PLOS One by Professor Robert Plomin suggested genetic difference accounted for over half of the variation between pupils’ GCSE results.


Sarah Norcross, Director of the Progress Educational Trust, said:

“The idea of ‘personalised medicine’, which uses our understanding of genetics in order to tailor treatment to individuals, has been promoted for several decades with only very modest success to show for it and brings problems with equity in accessing it. The idea of tailoring education to individuals based on our understanding of their genetics deserves to be treated with, if anything, an even greater degree of scepticism and is likely to have even more equity of access problems.

“That said, these researchers are to be commended for acknowledging that their work has ‘no necessary implications for educational policy, because policy depends on values as well as knowledge’.”


Dr Simon Underdown, Principal Lecturer in Biological Anthropology, Oxford Brookes University, said:

“The results highlight the important role played by genetics in intelligence but they must be treated with caution. While the genetic influence is slightly more than 50% that still leaves a massive role for environmental factors.

“What this research does is show that complex traits like intelligence are not the product of one or two simple genes. Rather it is managed by an intricate process that relies on genetic factors and environmental influences. The nature-nurture debate is not over yet.”


‘Strong Genetic Influence on a UK Nationwide Test of Educational Achievement at the End of Compulsory Education at Age 16’ by Shakeshaft et al. published in PLOS One on Wednesday 11th December.

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