Bookworms benefit

New research published in the British Educational Research Journal has found that reading for pleasure is more strongly linked to cognitive progress in adolescence than parents’ education.

Data on 3,583 16-year-olds was taken from the 1970 British Cohort Study. This study follows the lives of people born in England, Scotland, and Wales in a single week of 1970, collecting information on health, physical, educational, and social development, and economic circumstances among other factors.

The authors set out to explore the relative importance of economic and cultural resources in determining class differentials in educational outcomes. They found that the home reading culture (including reading to the child and parents reading books and newspapers) was linked to children’s test scores, and this had a role in mediating the influence of parents’ education and also to some extent in mediating parents’ social class.

Childhood reading was linked to substantial cognitive progress between the ages of 10 and 16. Reading was most strongly linked to progress in vocabulary, with a weaker, but still substantial link to progress in mathematics.

The research also found that parental education was much more strongly linked than parental social class to both vocabulary and mathematics scores, broadly supporting the idea that cultural resources matter more to cognitive outcomes than economic resources.

Source: Reading for Pleasure and Progress in Vocabulary and Mathematics (2015), British Educational Research Journal, 41(6).

What influences attainment at age 16?

The Department for Education has published a new report analysing the attainment and behavioural outcomes at age 16 of children in the Effective Pre-school, Primary and Secondary Education (EPPSE) study.

EPPSE is a large-scale, longitudinal study of the progress and development of children from preschool to post-compulsory education. The study ran from 1997 to 2014, following nearly 2,600 children in six local authorities from early childhood to age 16.

The report is substantial. Focusing on academic attainment as measured by GCSE results, the key findings include:

There is an enduring effect of preschool. Attendance, quality, and duration at preschool all show long-term effects on academic outcomes.

  • The early years home learning environment has a long-term impact, and a stronger impact on all measures of GCSE results than free school meal eligibility.
  • Family income, measured in KS1 (age 5-7), showed large effects on the likelihood of achieving 5 A*-C grades at GCSE.
  • Parents’ highest qualification level (compared to no qualifications) was the strongest predictor of better attainment in GCSE English and achieving 5 A*-C including English and maths.
  • Ethnicity was a relatively strong predictor of total GCSE score and maths grades.
  • Pupils who had attended a more academically effective primary school for maths went on to gain better GCSE maths grades.
  • Secondary school quality and pupils’ experiences of school also influenced outcomes.
  • After taking into account other influences, girls and Autumn-born children generally scored higher at GCSE.

Source: Students’ Educational and Developmental Outcomes at Age 16 (2014), Department for Education.

Extended maternity leave does not improve test scores

A new working paper from the US National Bureau of Economic Research investigates whether prolonged paid and protected maternity leave has an effect on children’s cognitive development. The authors used data from Austria, where a change in policy in 1990 extended maternity leave entitlement from one year to two years. Most women – around 80% – took the full entitlement. The authors looked at the effect this change had on test scores at age 15, using standardised assessments in mathematics, reading, and scientific literacy from the international PISA study.

The paper found no significant overall impact of the extended parental leave mandate on standardised test scores at age 15. However, subgroup analyses by maternal education and child gender points to significant positive effects for children of highly educated mothers, especially for boys. In contrast, schooling outcomes of children from less-well-educated mothers seem to have been harmed (boys have lower test scores and girls have a higher likelihood of being in a lower grade). The authors note that it is an open question as to how much these potential negative effects could be mitigated or reversed through a high-quality formal day care system.

Source: Parental Leave and Children’s Schooling Outcomes: Quasi-Experimental Evidence from a Large Parental Leave Reform (2013), National Bureau of Economic Research.

It pays to be wealthier

A new review from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation concludes that wealth affects children’s outcomes. The authors analysed studies which separated the effect of money from other factors (eg, levels of parental education or parenting approaches) to isolate whether money was a direct cause of differences in outcomes. A total of 34 studies met the inclusion criteria.

The review concluded that while a parent’s level of education, attitude towards bringing up children, and other parental factors also have a bearing, having more money directly improves the development and level of achievement of children.

The authors found that money in early childhood makes the most difference in cognitive outcomes, while in later childhood and adolescence it makes more difference in social and behavioural outcomes.

Source: Does Money Affect Children’s Outcomes? (2013), Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Reading for pleasure increases cognitive progress

A new working paper from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies sets out to examine socio-economic inequalities in cognitive test scores at age 16. In particular, the authors were interested in whether reading for pleasure was linked to cognitive progress.

The study found that children who read for pleasure at the ages of 10 and 16 made more progress in maths, vocabulary, and spelling between the ages of 10 and 16 than those who rarely read, even after controlling for parental social background and parents’ own reading behaviour. The largest gains were for vocabulary. From a policy perspective, the authors say this strongly supports the need to support and encourage children’s reading in their leisure time.

The research also showed that parents’ education was far more important for children’s performance in cognitive tests than parents’ economic resources. The home reading culture, including reading to the child, reading books and newspapers, and having problems with reading, was also significantly linked to children’s test scores. This had a relatively strong role in mediating the influence of parents’ education, and a smaller role in mediating parents’ material resources.

The study used data on a sample of around 6,000 young people being followed as part of the 1970 British Cohort Study and the scores from maths, vocabulary, and spelling tests taken when they were aged 16.

Source: Social Inequalities in Cognitive Scores at Age 16: The Role of Reading (2013), Centre for Longitudinal Studies.

Roadblocks to university

A study conducted by The Strategic Society Centre compares the university-going aspirations and behaviour of a group of academically qualified and interested English pupils who considered not applying to university and those who never had any such hesitation. Data for the study was collected from the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England for the years 2004-2009. The research focused on pupils who expressed motivation to go to university, but answered positively to the question: “Have the financial aspects of going to university, that is the costs of fees and living expenses, ever made you think about not applying?”

Findings revealed that 34% of 16-year-olds who had shown the potential and expressed a motivation to go to university reported that the financial aspects made them think about not applying. Several factors were significantly associated with those pupils who were concerned about cost ultimately deciding against going to university. These were:

  • Ethnicity (being white, Caribbean black or mixed race);
  • Houshold income (£10-£15k or £41.6-£46.8k per year);
  • Parental education (to GCSEs or A levels);
  • Not having friends who applied to university;
  • Not feeling informed about financial support; and
  • Not receiving information and advice on university from a teacher.

Source: Access for All: An investigation of young people’s attitudes to the cost of higher education using the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England (2013), The Strategic Society Centre.