Are teachers’ judgements of pupils’ ability influenced by body shape?

Evidence indicates that teachers can judge pupils on the basis of their physical appearance, including their body shape. Teacher bias towards obese pupils has been suggested as a potential pathway through which obese children attain relatively lower academic levels. The authors aim by this study to investigate whether teachers’ judgements of pupils’ ability are influenced by the body shape of the child.

The sample includes English, singleton children in state schools from the Millennium Cohort Study. The data were taken from the fourth wave of data collection, when the children were approximately 7 years old. In all, 5086/5072 children had teacher ability ratings of reading and maths. Logistic regression analyses were used to test whether teachers’ perceptions of the child’s reading and mathematics ability were influenced by the pupil’s waist circumference, conditional upon cognitive test scores of reading and maths ability.

Results:After adjustment for cognitive test scores, no significant overall relationship was found between the pupil’s waist circumference and the teacher’s judgements of ability. No statistically significant differences were observed in the probability of being judged as above average after further adjustments were made for potential confounders.

The authors concluded that there is little evidence that teachers’ judgements of pupils’ ability are influenced by obesity.

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