“People Like Me Don’t Do Well at School”: The Roles of Identity Compatibility and School Context in Explaining the Socioeconomic Attainment Gap

Kerry Jane Fox, Matthew Easterbrook, Marlon Nieuwenhuis, Peter Harris, Robin Banerjee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: School students who are eligible for reduced or free school meals (FSM) – an indicator of economic disadvantage – have lower academic attainment than their peers. Aims: We investigated whether identity compatibility – the perceived compatibility between one’s social identities and the stereotype of a high‐achieving student – contributes to this socioeconomic attainment gap, and whether the association between socioeconomic status and identity compatibility is moderated by school context. Sample: Our sample was 4,629 students aged 15–16 years old across 29 schools in England. Method: We assessed students’ perceptions of identity compatibility via self‐report questionnaires 8 months prior to them taking national, standardized exams. Results: Multilevel regression analyses revealed a negative indirect effect from eligibility for FSM to exam results via identity compatibility. These effects existed even while accounting for students’ gender and language status, other psychological variables known to predict academic attainment, and their previous exam results. Furthermore, school context moderated the relationship between FSM eligibility and identity compatibility. In line with the identities in context model of educational inequalities, there was a significant negative association between FSM and identity compatibility only for students attending schools in which there was previously a relatively large socioeconomic attainment gap. Conclusions: Our results demonstrate the importance of social psychological variables in explaining educational inequalities, and of the local educational context in determining the educational experience of students from lower socioeconomic status backgrounds.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1178-1195
Number of pages18
JournalBritish Journal of Educational Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We have no known conflict of interest to disclose. This research was supported by a grant from the Education Endowment Foundation #20160108.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. British Journal of Educational Psychology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Psychological Society.


  • attainment gaps
  • education
  • identity compatibility
  • school context
  • socioeconomic status


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