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).

Three reports support the value of social-emotional learning

Commissioned by the Early Intervention Foundation, the Cabinet Office, and the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, three new reports look at social-emotional learning in children and how it affects their adult lives. Data were gathered from the 1970 British Cohort Study.

A team from UCL (University College London) investigated whether, and how much, emotional skills developed in childhood matter during adult life. Their study indicated that development of self-control/self-regulation in childhood mattered most into adulthood. Self-perceptions/awareness and social skills were also important and emotional well-being contributed to mental well-being in adults. There was a lack of evidence on motivation and resilience.

In the second report, researchers at the National University of Ireland, Galway, looked at evidence of the effectiveness of 39 in-school and 55 out-of-school social-emotional skills interventions in the UK. They reported strong evidence that well-evaluated in-school interventions (both primary and secondary) led to benefits for social-emotional competencies and educational outcomes. Targeted programmes for high-risk students, programmes for prevention of violence and substance abuse, and whole-school approaches that involved parents and the wider community were also found to be effective; the last was particularly effective for prevention of bullying.

Finally, ResearchAbility reported on issues raised by people who implement social-emotional learning and how these issues are viewed by policy makers at national and local levels. The report identified eight key challenges including:

  • Effective provision needed to deliver the whole group of skills, not just focus on one or two characteristics.
  • Social-emotional learning provision should be available to all.
  • There was no systematic evaluation of interventions.
  • Skills and training of staff supporting social-emotional learning was important for ensuring quality provision.

An Early Intervention Foundation summary report considered that the three reports “indicate strongly that the social and emotional skills measured at age 10 turned out to be important signals of a flourishing or struggling child” but that “there are big gaps in advice for schools on what works.”

Source: Social and emotional learning: skills for life and work (2015), Early Intervention 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.

If you want to earn more, study maths

A study from the Centre for Analysis of Youth Transitions has shown the importance of maths and reading skills for earnings later in life.

The authors used data from the British Cohort Study to compare reading and maths skills for children at age 10 with their earnings at age 30, 34, and 38. They found that, controlling for background factors such as parents’ income, a 1 standard deviation increase in maths (equivalent to moving from an average score to being in the top 15%) raised weekly earnings by 13%. A similar increase in reading scores raised income by around 10%. In both cases, much of the impact was due to pupils with higher maths and reading scores obtaining higher qualifications.

The study highlights both the importance of maths and reading skills, but also the difficulty of making substantive changes to outcomes for pupils. A difference of 1 standard deviation (an effect size of 1) is a challenging improvement to make, given that interventions that have an effect size of +0.2 in education are considered effective. The authors do not look at whether the effect was consistent across the ability range; it would be interesting to know if the effect was more dramatic for the bottom 10% of pupils, for example. Also, the study only looked at employed people. Reading and maths skills are also known to affect unemployment, of course.

Source: Reading and Maths Skills at Age 10 and Earnings in Later Life: A Brief Analysis Using the British Cohort Study (2013), Department for Education.