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Education Projects 

Genetic contributions of noncognitive skills to academic development

Noncognitive skills such as motivation and self-regulation, are partly heritable and predict academic achievement beyond cognitive skills. However, how the relationship between noncognitive skills and academic achievement changes over development is unclear. The current study examined how cognitive and noncognitive skills contribute to academic achievement from ages 7 to 16 in a sample of over 10,000 children from England and Wales. Noncognitive skills were increasingly predictive of academic achievement across development. Twin and polygenic scores analyses found that the contribution of noncognitive genetics to academic achievement became stronger over the school years. Results from within-family analyses indicated that associations with noncognitive genetics could not simply be attributed to confounding by environmental differences between nuclear families and are consistent with a possible role for evocative/active gene-environment correlations. By studying genetic effects through a developmental lens, we provide novel insights into the role of noncognitive skills in academic development.

In this short conference talk, Dr. Malanchini tells us more about the results of this  project:


Gene-environment correlation: The role of family environment in academic development

Academic achievement is partly heritable and highly polygenic. However, genetic effects on academic achievement are not independent of environmental processes. We investigated whether aspects of the family environment mediated genetic effects on academic achievement across development. Our sample included 5,151 children who participated in the Twins Early Development Study, as well as their parents and teachers. Data on academic achievement and family environments were available at ages 7, 9, 12 and 16. We computed educational attainment polygenic scores (PGS) and further separated genetic effects into cognitive and noncognitive PGS.


Three core findings emerged. First, aspects of the family environment, but not the wider neighbourhood context, consistently mediated the PGS effects on achievement across development, accounting for up to 34.3% of the total effect. Family characteristics mattered beyond socio-economic status. Second, family environments were more robustly linked to noncognitive PGS effects on academic achievement than cognitive PGS effects. Third, when we investigated whether environmental mediation effects could also be observed when considering differences between siblings, adjusting for family fixed effects, we found that environmental mediation was nearly exclusively observed between families. This is consistent with the proposition that family environmental contexts contribute to academic development via passive gene-environment correlation processes.


Our results show how parents shape environments that foster their children’s academic development partly based on their own genetic disposition, particularly towards noncognitive skills.


Mapping the relationships between education-related noncognitive characteristics: A meta-analysis

Characteristics such as personality, motivation, and socioemotional competencies have been found to account for differences between students in academic achievement, beyond cognitive abilities. These characteristics have been broadly described as “noncognitive” skills. Major gaps in our knowledge of education-related noncognitive skills remain. Most prominently, we lack a comprehensive understanding of how these different noncognitive characteristics relate to one another. Research and interventions have focused on isolated, narrow aspects of noncognitive skills (e.g., motivation, grit), each likely to play a small role in changing educational outcomes.


This project aims to overcome these limitations and provide a synthesis of all the published literature on the associations between different education-related noncognitive characteristics. We aim to 1) map the structure of the relationships between noncognitive constructs that relate to education and 2) build on our findings to develop a new, evidence-based taxonomy of noncognitive characteristics. This will allow us to move away from a passive definition of noncognitive characteristics to an active data-driven definition, which has the potential of resulting in major advances in research in this field.

MILES: Multi-cohort Investigation into Learning and Educational Success

The Multi-cohort Investigation into Learning and Educational Success (MILES) is an ongoing longitudinal research project. MILES aims to further our understanding of how psychological, cognitive and experiential factors interact in shaping students' learning experiences, well-being, and academic success. MILES  aims to unravel the cognitive, experiential and emotional processes that support the acquisition of mathematics, literacy, and second language abilities during adolescence.  To this end, we have collected longitudinal data covering several important aspects of adolescents' lives within and outside the classroom.

Check out the project MILES website

Evaluating the effectiveness of a school-based mathematics intervention for children at risk

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Results from the OECD Program for International Students Assessments consistently show that Western countries underachieve in mathematics. The achievement gap is wider for students from low-income families who show lower levels of mathematics achievement starting from primary school and, in turn, stop progressing through the STEM educational and professional pipeline. We need effective interventions to reduce this gap and consequently reduce educational and economic inequalities. This project will evaluate a school-based mathematics intervention aimed at increasing confidence and performance in mathematics in primary school students. The intervention has been developed and is implemented by Number Champions; a non-profit organisation established in 2018 to help primary school children who struggle with numeracy. Over 1,000 children from 30 London schools have benefitted from this intervention but its effectiveness has not yet been formally tested. We will partner with Number Champions to run a longitudinal randomised control trial to assess the success of their mathematics intervention, understand which children benefit more from it, and what aspects are most effective in promoting children’s mathematics development. The outcomes of this project will have important applications in educational and policy settings and, because the intervention is scalable, will foster the mathematics development of primary school children at risk. 

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