The effects of early cognitive ability and socioeconomic status on predicting later cognitive and academic outcomes: social mobility and closing achievement gaps

Principal Supervisor: Prof Andy Tolmie, Department of Psychology & Human Development, UCL Institute of Education

Co-Supervisor: Prof Michael Thomas, Department of Psychological Sciences, Birkbeck, University of London

Project Details

The project explores social mobility in a child population. It addresses the growing gap in educational achievement between those from high socioeconomic (SES) backgrounds and less fortunate children. Increasing evidence is demonstrating the importance of early years, and that a poor start in life has many negative ramifications for the individual and wider society. This project will examine the mechanisms behind why children from low SES backgrounds are being unfairly disadvantaged. It will use the emerging field of computational modelling and genome wide association studies (GWAS) to investigate underlying influences on cognitive development, exploring the long-term effects of these via a combination of modelling and analysis of existing data. The study will also collect novel data from children who have recently suffered the educational impact of the pandemic, and assess the impact of SES on cognitive development in a contemporary sample. This project will generate research defining inequality in education, exploring accounts of this that may help to close achievement gaps.


This PhD studentship has the potential to improve primary education outcomes for children, by developing research methods that help us to understand factors affecting educational opportunities and identify novel interventions that will allow educational disadvantage to be addressed.

Why should you apply?

You will be working as part of a world-leading team of researchers within the University of London Centre for Educational Neuroscience with expertise in statistical and computational modelling (Tolmie, Thomas) and behavioural genetics (Dr Emma Meaburn), supported by experts in the analysis of social disadvantage (Prof John Jerrim) and SES/genetic interaction (Prof Yulia Kovacs). In collaboration with this team, you will play a central role in organising, managing and supporting modelling, data analysis and testing, reporting the outcomes in scientific journals. This studentship will therefore give you the opportunity to acquire a wide range of cutting edge research skills.


Graduates with a good first degree and/or master’s degree in psychology, education, neuroscience, or other relevant sciences. Applicants with an interest and aptitude for child development and quantitative methods are encouraged to apply. You should be comfortable with using code in a statistical language (e.g. RStudio). Knowledge, understanding or interest in educational processes or intervention would also be an advantage. 

Key References

Feinstein, L. (2003). Inequality in the Early Cognitive Development of British Children in the 1970 Cohort. Economica, 70(277), 73–97.

Noble, K. G., Houston, S. M., Brito, N. H., Bartsch, H., Kan, E., Kuperman, J. M., Akshoomoff, N., Amaral, D. G., Bloss, C. S., Libiger, O., Schork, N. J., Murray, S. S., Casey, B. J., Chang, L., Ernst, T. M., Frazier, J. A., Gruen, J. R., Kennedy, D. N., Van Zijl, P., … Sowell, E. R. (2015). Family income, parental education and brain structure in children and adolescents. Nature Neuroscience, 18(5), 773–778.

Stumm, S., Smith‐Woolley, E., Ayorech, Z., McMillan, A., Rimfeld, K., Dale, P. S., & Plomin, R. (2020). Predicting educational achievement from genomic measures and socioeconomic status. Developmental Science, 23(3).

Thomas, M. S. C., Forrester, N. A., & Ronald, A. (2013). Modeling socioeconomic status effects on language development. Developmental Psychology, 49(12), 2325–2343.

Further details about the project may be obtained from

Principal Supervisor:        Prof Andy Tolmie (

Co-Supervisor:      Prof Michael Thomas (

How to Apply:

Candidates should submit an online application via the Survey Monkey Apply portal. The application consists of a form, covering letter, CV, transcripts and references. Candidates will be selected for interview after the closing date.

Closing date for applications is:         
February 15th, 2023