Academic attainment has a large influence on life opportunities. Yet gaps in educational attainment between the least and most advantaged children remain stubbornly wide. In 2019, the most disadvantaged pupils were, on average, around 18 months behind other students at the time they sat their GCSEs. This has far-reaching consequences. For example, students eligible for free school meals in Year 11 are three times more likely to be on benefits at age 27 compared to students who are not eligible. In the UK, the circumstances of your childhood are highly predictive of your future educational and work achievements.

Royal National Children’s Springboard Foundation (RNCSF) works to address this challenge by providing students from less advantaged backgrounds access to greater educational opportunities. Through their bursary programmes, they place students in boarding schools around the UK and support them through their schooling. With exposure to educational opportunities available in these schools, they seek to raise aspirations and future life chances of ‘SpringBoarders’.

To analyse the effectiveness of their work, we test whether students placed by RNCSF in fully-funded “110%” places (full fee assistance plus budget for extras such as uniforms, books, travel etc.) at boarding schools perform better in their A-levels. We compare the number of A-levels achieved by SpringBoarders against a sample of students with similar backgrounds identified in the National Pupil Database to estimate the benefits of the programme.

We find that:

  • SpringBoarders appear to make more rapid academic progress compared to similar pupils, with a best estimate of around twelve months of additional progress.

  • They could be between five and 50 percentage points more likely to achieve two or more A-levels (or equivalent) than if they did not participate in the programme, with a central estimate of 23 percentage points.

  • This means the average SpringBoarder is estimated to earn between £5,000 and £52,000 more over their lifetime compared to if they had not joined the programme, with a central estimate of £24,000.

The estimates are robust to a number of rigorous sensitivity checks. This gives us confidence that RNCSF’s programmes improve the educational attainment of students. Results among SpringBoarders may be higher because of better quality teaching at their new school, additional support enabling them to focus more on schoolwork, a wider range of extra-curricular opportunities available, or motivational effects due to the attainment of the peers at their new school.

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