'Huge waste of talent' as bright, disadvantaged teenagers 'lag behind'
Bright, poor teenagers in England lag more than two and a half years behind their classmates in core academic subjects, according to new research.
It reveals that gap is even bigger among clever girls alone, with disadvantaged young women around three years behind in reading and science.
The Sutton Trust, which published the study, said it was "staggering" these youngsters are so far behind, warning it is a "huge waste of talent".
The study uses the latest results from international PISA tests to examine the performance of 10% of the most able pupils in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, taking into account their background.
It concludes in England, the gap between the brightest rich and poor children is around two years and eight to nine months of schooling in reading, maths and science.
Among able girls alone, the gulf for reading is three years of schooling - nine months more than it is for boys, while in science it is also three years - eight months more than the equivalent gap for boys.
There was no significant gender difference in maths, the research says.
A breakdown by country also shows in Scotland, bright disadvantaged pupils are about two years and seven months behind their well-off classmates in science and maths, while in reading they are about two years and two months of schooling behind.
In Wales, the gulf between rich and poor clever children is just under two years in each of the three subjects, while in Northern Ireland it is around two years in reading, and just over this in science and maths.
The report concludes England compares quite well with the rest of the UK and other nations in terms of the general academic performance of its brightest pupils, particularly in science where the cleverest pupils of only two nations do significantly better.
It adds: "There has been no improvement in the reading, science and mathematics skills of the highest-achieving pupils across the UK since 2006, including those from disadvantaged social backgrounds. In some parts of the UK (Wales and Northern Ireland) there have been falls in some subjects (science).
"The situation for high-achieving pupils across the UK has therefore been stagnant at best."
Sutton Trust chairman Sir Peter Lampl, said: "It is staggering that at age 16 bright but poor pupils lag behind their rich classmates by almost three years.
"This results in a huge waste of talent which is why we at the Sutton Trust are calling on government to establish a highly able fund.
"High potential pupils would be monitored and given specific support.
"This would improve social mobility at the top by widening access to leading universities and to top jobs."
A Department for Education spokesman said: "Thanks to our reforms there are nearly 1.8 million more children in schools rated good or outstanding than in 2010, while the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers is narrowing.
"This year alone we are spending £2.5 billion through the pupil premium to tackle educational inequality.
"But we are determined to go further, and through our reformed, more rigorous curriculum, we want to stretch all pupils, including the most able.
"We have also recently consulted on proposals to end the ban on new grammar schools, where we know bright children from disadvantaged backgrounds thrive, as well as harnessing the resources and expertise of universities, independent and faith schools to create even more good school places."