An academic researcher has suggested that academic achievement “gaps” between different groups of pupils cannot be closed as differences in intelligence cannot be “erased”.

Dr Stuart Ritchie (pictured), from the University of Edinburgh, presented research describing the genetic link to IQ, a measure of intelligence, and its controversies in education.

Speaking to Schools Week after Saturday’s event, Dr Ritchie said teachers should not dismiss IQ tests.

“There is a very strong correlation between IQ and certain factors, such as mortality. Research with more than one million subjects shows this is not just a coincidence. It is strong evidence.

“Research shows that education can improve intelligence. But you cannot get away from the fact that is a genetic [intelligence] trait.

“There are various aspects of the environment that can improve intelligence – malnourished kids get poorer scores – but that is not as much of a problem in the UK.”

One delegate on Saturday asked Dr Ritchie: “If [achievement] difference is so genetic what does that mean for attempts to close the gap between pupils with disadvantaged and less advantaged backgrounds?”

He responded: “It means it is much more difficult than people assume.”

Dr Ritchie explained that while there is some evidence that environments can impact intelligence, most research suggested that education could lift all people’s intelligence, but not even it out.

“But maybe making everyone equal is not what we are looking for. Maybe we are looking for bringing everyone up, and everyone doing the best they can do, rather than only bringing up those at the lower end.”

Another audience member asked why [they] should be a teacher if the result “has nothing to do with [them]”.

Previous academic studies found that schooling could increase the average (mean) intelligence across cohorts, Dr Ritchie said.

“You could theoretically increase everyone’s intelligence, though the heritability levels stays the same. So you could think about raising people’s mean intelligence and not erasing the difference. So it is less likely that we can equalise intelligence — and not everyone even wants to do that — but it is much more likely we can raise mean intelligence than erase differences.”

The audience were shown illustrations such as the picture of the brain, above. This image shows the “pathways” in white matter; a brain of someone with high levels of intelligence will have clearer white pathways, but as someone ages – of if they are less intelligent – these pathways will break down.