A simple DNA test could predict how well your child does in school

A person’s academic ability can be determined simply by looking at their DNA, research has found.

Researchers at King’s College London have developed a new genetic scoring technique that explains almost 10% of the differences between children’s educational attainment by the age of 16-years-old.

The researchers say the technique, known as polygenic scoring, could be used to identify child who may develop learning problems later on, enabling educators to provide additional support that is tailored to a child’s individual needs.

Predicting 10% of variation in educational achievement may not sound much but it is the strongest prediction from DNA of any behavioural or social measure recorded so far across the general population, the King’s researchers say. “For instance, when we think about differences between boys and girls in maths, gender explains about one per cent of the variance,” said Saskia Selzam, one of the King’s team.

On average, children with high polygenic scores achieved GCSE grades between A and B and had a 65 per cent chance of going on to do A-levels. Those with low scores averaged between B and C in GCSE and had a 35 per cent chance of doing A-levels.

“This makes a real difference for life chances,” the researchers said. “Twice as many of the individuals with the highest polygenic scores go on to university as compared to those with the lowest scores.”

Although polygenic scores are potentially useful for identifying young children at particular risk of doing badly at school, the research could be controversial if individuals are insensitively branded as failures because of their genetics.

“We are not talking about genetic determinism,” said Ms Selzam. “It will be important to create dialogues between researchers and policymakers. We want to start a conversation so that people think about the issues.”

Via Molecular Psychiatry