Wealthy students and high-points courses

Sir, – Dr Michael O'Connell is representing only one academic argument in his discussion of the relationship between socioeconomic background and educational attainment (Letters, October 24th).

He argues that children born into affluent households simply inherit their parents’ cognitive abilities and consequently excel in school.

But this ignores the direction of causality: which came first, intelligence or opportunity? If wealth is inherited, this gives a person a distinct advantage. They can access schools with a heavy emphasis on academic achievement and are more likely to have a stable home life.

By comparison, disadvantaged students are likely to attend schools battling more fundamental concerns such as truancy and behavioural issues arising from locally entrenched social problems, including domestic and substance abuse.


Take two children of equivalent ability and it is obvious which setting is better equipped to nurture their talents.

While the true picture is muddied, econometrically modelled research looks at a range of variables to understand the relationship. Inherent ability is clearly a factor, but economic literature also shows that school location, upbringing, household size, parents’ attitude to education, and so on, all play a role in determining outcomes.

We should not be dogmatic about this argument because professionals and academics in science and social studies continue to examine this relationship.

This tells us there is no definitive answer, and we must be upfront about that.

The bottom line is that one can be socially advantaged or disadvantaged at birth and this provides the starting point for the journey through education. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 3.