Schools

DfE to research school impact of DNA performance testing

A three-month research project will look at the implications of future genomic technologies on the education sector

A three-month research project will look at the implications of future genomic technologies on the education sector

Government-commissioned researchers will investigate how parents testing their children’s DNA for educational performance could create further disparities in schools. 

Ipsos MORI is to look at the implications of future genomics technologies on the education sector, under a three-month £50,000 Department for Education and Government Office for Science contract.

The move follows a government research report that said there are more than a thousand genes that relate to educational and cognitive outcomes.

However, the Genomics Beyond Health report said it is “very difficult” to accurately predict a pupil’s educational performance using the available estimates, called polygenic scoring. 

Despite that, “direct-to-consumer” testing companies were expanding into education fields and marketing the tests to parents, the report from 2022 added. 

Three providers were offering “genetics-informed IQ tests from a saliva sample” in 2018, but it was not clear how much traction these would gather or what support teachers would need in response to their use. 

Researchers said that if they are used effectively, genomic data can be measured at birth – so before children start school – meaning it could “enable earlier interventions to improve educational outcomes”. 

“This could include identifying students in need of academic support, designing learning approaches, or helping pupils with learning disabilities.” 

DfE to ‘better understand risks’

But the researchers warned there were no regulations around this and their use “could lead to stigmatisation of pupils”. 

The DfE said the research would help them “to better understand the risks, opportunities and challenges that the application of genomics to the education sector may bring”.  

“It will help us to foresee the possible impacts on children, learners and educators.”

A 2020 research report by the University of Bristol found predictions of educational outcomes from polygenic scores were “inferior” to those from parental socioeconomic factors. 

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “There are chilling implications about the idea of scientifically testing children to determine their ability to learn and the potential for this to be deeply stigmatising and divisive.

“Teachers are obviously going to have no truck with anyone presenting such test results as evidence of cognitive ability as their entire raison d’etre is to do their best for all pupils whatever their starting point or circumstances.

“We will be interested to see the results of the research project commissioned by the DfE.”

Genomic testing is mainly used in the health service. The government launched the Genomics Medicine Service in 2018 to help identify genetic causes of rare diseases and cancer to help with treatment. 

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One comment

  1. 1984 is here: educational success depends on the definition of education not genes. The modern concept has developed a self destructive war torn world rat race. No intelligence at all. Discuss!