Schools in the UK will soon be able to tailor the education they provide based on information about their pupils' genetic profiles, an expert has said.
Professor Robert Plomin, a geneticist from King's College London, said DNA testing could be used for “predicting and preventing” learning problems and to move away from a "one size fits all" curriculum.
In a talk for the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) - an association of private school heads - he said: “It’s very important for parents to recognise that kids are genetically different and to go with the flow of it, rather than pre-ordaining the way you want your children to come out.
“In education, I think a universal, one size fits all national curriculum can’t work because kids are genetically different.”
He said that genotyping is already available privately - and will soon be offered on the NHS - allowing people to “measure millions of DNA differences across the genome”.
This can be used to create a “polygenic score” which shows an individual’s likelihood of having different health conditions, as well as certain psychological and education traits.
Professor Plomin said: “You will be having parents coming to you - it’s happening in America - saying ‘my kid has a strong genetic risk for a reading disorder and needs special services’, for example.”
“The thing with these polygenic scores is there’s no tutoring, there’s no bias, there’s no test anxiety, and you can make these predictions at birth, because your DNA does not change during your life. So this is a very big deal, and it’s happening now.”
Professor Plomin is a confidante of Dominic Cummings, the senior adviser to Boris Johnson.
When Mr Cummings was a special adviser in the Department for Education, he invited Professor Plomin to give a series of lectures to civil servants about genetics.
At the HMC event, Professor Plomin was asked whether schools might just give up on certain students if their DNA profiles suggested their prospects for educational attainment were low.
He said: “This is a concern a lot of people have, that if you find out about a genetic propensity you say ‘oh well there’s nothing I can do about it.’”
However, he said he thought this would not happen. He pointed out that he had a genetic propensity towards obesity, but used this information to make sure he controlled his weight.
“My highest polygenic score is for Body Mass Index… I’m a genetic fatty,” he said.
“I find it very motivating because I know I’m in a lifelong battle of the bulge, I have to arrange my environment properly, I can’t have junk food around the house.
“I think the same thing is true of education… does that mean you give up? Absolutely not. It means you roll up your sleeves and you put a lot more effort in.”