Out-of-school clubs linked with better outcomes

A new working paper from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies investigates whether taking part in out-of-school activities during primary school is linked with end-of-primary-school achievement and social, emotional, and behavioural outcomes for all children, and specifically for children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

The analysis is based on the UK’s Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), a national longitudinal study of more than 11,000 children born in the year 2000. This was linked with administrative data on the children’s attainment scores at ages 6-7 and 10-11. In addition to looking at achievement (total point score, English, and maths) at ages 10-11, researchers also investigated social, emotional, and behavioural outcomes using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) total difficulties and prosocial skills scores.

Results showed that sports clubs and “other” (unspecified) club participation was positively associated with achievement outcomes at age 11, when controlling for prior achievement. Participating in organised sports or physical activity was also positively linked to social, emotional, and behavioural outcomes. Among disadvantaged children, after school clubs emerged as the only organised activity linked to child outcomes; participation was linked to both higher achievement  and prosocial skills at ages 10-11.

Source: Out of School Activities During Primary School and KS2 Attainment (2016) Centre for Longitudinal Studies

Capital gains

A new report published by the Centre for Social Exclusion (CASE) at LSE explores the relative improvement in outcomes for disadvantaged pupils in London over the past two decades compared to those elsewhere in the country, the so-called “London Effect”.

The authors use two major datasets, the National Pupil Database and the Millennium Cohort Study, to describe the situation in London. They found that:

  • Disadvantaged pupils in London generally start primary school at age 5 at a similar level or behind their peers elsewhere in England. The London advantage then generally grows from the period they start school at age 5 through to age 11.
  • In 1997, about 47% of poorer pupils in both inner London and the rest of England achieved the expected level in English tests at age 11. By 2008, poorer pupils in inner London became 7 percentage points more likely to achieve this standard (75% for inner London compared with 68% for the rest of England).
  • The performance of disadvantaged pupils in London in exams at age 16 has improved substantially, starting from the mid-1990s onwards, and they are now achieving much higher results at age 16 than disadvantaged pupils outside London.
  • The characteristics of disadvantaged pupils in London are very different from those outside London, especially in terms of ethnicity. For example, disadvantaged pupils in inner London are much less likely to come from a White-British background (13% in inner London in 2013 as compared with 76% outside of London) and much more likely to come from other ethnic backgrounds.
  • Disadvantaged pupils in London are also more likely than those outside London to live in a deprived neighbourhood, to attend voluntary aided/controlled schools, less likely to attend foundation schools, and have a peer group that contains more disadvantaged pupils, more pupils from an ethnic minority, and who speak English as an Additional Language.

Source: Understanding the Improved Performance of Disadvantaged Pupils in London (2015), LSE.

Streaming good for high achievers, bad for everyone else

A new article published in the Oxford Review of Education uses data from the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) to explore the impact of streaming on Key Stage 1 (KS1) attainment at age seven. The authors found that children in the “top” stream achieved more and made significantly more academic progress than children attending schools that did not stream, while children in the “middle” or “bottom” streams achieved less and made significantly less academic progress. They conclude that streaming undermines the attempts of governments to raise attainment for all children whatever their socio-economic status.

The MCS is following the lives of around 19,000 children born in the UK in 2000/1. For this study, the authors focused on children in England as information on streaming (obtained from a teacher survey) could be linked to Foundations Stage Profile scores and KS1 results from the National Pupil Database. Complete data was available for 2,098 children. Of these, 446 were “streamed” children, from 307 different primary schools.

Although the relationship between streaming and KS1 reading was partly explained by other child characteristics, being in the “top” stream retained a significant positive association with all KS1 scores and being in the “middle” or “bottom” stream retained a significant negative association with KS1 reading and overall performance scores.
Source: The Impact of Streaming on Attainment at Age Seven: Evidence from the Millennium Cohort Study (2014), Oxford Review of Education.

Young children benefit from regular bedtimes

Researchers from University College London have published new findings on whether bedtimes in early childhood are related to cognitive test scores in seven year-olds. They examined data on bedtimes and cognitive tests for reading, maths, and spatial abilities for 11,178 seven year-old children from the UK Millennium Cohort Study, and found that consistent bedtimes during early childhood are related to cognitive performance.

Findings showed that irregular bedtimes at age three were independently associated, in both girls and boys, with lower cognitive test scores in reading, maths, and spatial skills. Cumulative relationships were also apparent. Girls who did not have regular bedtimes at ages three, five, and seven had significantly lower cognitive test scores in reading, maths, and spatial skills, while for boys this was the case for those having irregular bedtimes at any two ages (three, five, or seven). The authors note that inconsistent bedtimes might be a reflection of chaotic family settings and it is this, rather than disrupted sleep, that impacts on cognitive performance in children. However, they found that inconsistent bedtimes were linked to markers of cognitive performance independent of multiple markers of stressful family environments.

Source: Time for Bed: Associations with Cognitive Performance in 7-year-old Children: A Longitudinal Population-based Study (2013), Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

Social class matters

A new study has looked at the relationship between social class and achievement in the early years of schooling. Researchers used data from the UK’s Millennium Cohort Study to examine the extent to which social class inequalities in early cognitive scores can be accounted for by parental education, income, family social resources, and parental behaviours.

They found that the links between social class and education on the one hand, and children’s test scores on the other, were only very modestly mediated by family social resources and parenting. The researchers conclude that social class remains an important concept for both researchers and policy makers.

The study found that parents’ educational qualifications were the strongest predictors of children’s scores. It also found that authoritative parenting and, surprisingly, TV viewing, had positive effects.

Source: Social Class and Inequalities in Early Cognitive Scores (2013), Sociology.

Summer born children – it’s their age that counts

Some studies have shown that children who are born at the end of the academic year (summer born children) tend to have lower educational attainment than children born at the start of the academic year. The differences might be because of the precise age when they take a test, because they started school at an earlier age, because they have had less schooling, or because they are the youngest in the class. A new report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies finds that it is the age at which children take the test that is the most important factor.

The authors suggest that UK national test scores could be adjusted to allow for this variation. However, this would not help to resolve other problems that summer born children may face, for example, they are more likely to engage in risky behaviour, such as underage smoking. Reassuringly, the authors point out that, in adulthood, many of the differences disappear, and summer born individuals are just as healthy, happy, and earn as much as their older peers.

On the same subject, a recent Centre for Longitudinal Studies working paper uses data from the Millennium Cohort Study to examine whether summer born pupils are differently represented in ability groups in early primary school. Across all types of ability grouping (within-year, within-class), the author found a pronounced and consistent tendency for relatively older pupils in a school year to be placed in the highest stream, set, or group.

Sources: When You Are Born Matters: Evidence for England (2013), Institute for Fiscal Studies, and In-school Ability Grouping and the Month of Birth Effect: Preliminary Evidence from the Millennium Cohort Study (2013), Centre for Longitudinal Studies.