Does school entry age matter?

In the UK, children usually start primary school in the academic year in which they turn five. However, because entry rules vary across local authorities, some schools may defer entry for children born later in the year until the second or third term.

A new study at University College London looks at what impact an earlier versus later entry into Reception has on pupils’ cognitive and non-cognitive skills up until age 11 (their final year of primary school).

Christian Dustmann and Thomas Cornelissen analysed information on more than 400,000 children born in 2000-01 who attended state schools in England and whose records are included in the National Pupil Database. This was combined with information on more than 7,000 children born in 2000-01 who took part in the Millennium Cohort study.

The researchers found that receiving an extra month of schooling before age five increases test scores in language and numeracy at ages five and seven by about 6–11%. But by age 11, the effects on test scores have largely disappeared. For boys from low socioeconomic backgrounds, the benefits of an earlier school entry are even greater. An additional term of schooling before age five reduces the achievement gap between boys from low and high socioeconomic backgrounds at age seven by 60-80%.

Source: Early school exposure, test scores, and noncognitive outcomes (March 2019), CReAM Discussion Paper Series CDP 03/19, Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration

Study shows delayed school entry yields mental health benefits

A study carried out by Stanford University and the Danish National Centre for Social Research provides evidence that children who delay school entry by one year demonstrate better self-regulation skills when compared to children who start school on time. These benefits persisted as the students progressed through primary school. The authors found that the one-year delay resulted in a 73% reduction in inattention and hyperactivity by the time the average student was 11 years old. Danish children start school in the calendar year they turn 6, so there can be up to a year’s difference in the age of the class.
The data were obtained from a national Danish mental-health screening tool completed by more than 54,000 parents of 7-year-olds and a follow-up of almost 36,000 parents when these same children were 11 years old.

Given that increased ability to control behaviour and pay attention in class leads to improved academic performance, researchers examined school assessment scores and found that students who delayed school entry demonstrated higher scores than those who did not.

Source: The Gift of Time? School Starting Age and Mental Health (2015), The National Bureau of Economic Research.

Children who learn to read later do catch up

A new article in Early Childhood Research Quarterly shows that by age 10, children who had learned to read at seven (in Steiner schools) had caught up with those learning to read at five. Later starters had no long-term disadvantages.

The article presents the results of two New Zealand studies, one employing three pairs of longitudinal samples and the other cross-sectional, spanning the first six years of school, for pupils who learned to read at either five or seven years. Analyses accounted for receptive vocabulary, reported parental income and education, school/community affluence, classroom teaching, home literacy environment, reading self-concept, and age.

Source: Children learning to read later catch up to children reading earlier (2012), Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(1)

Does school entrance age matter?

Researchers in Croatia explored the relationship between the age that pupils begin school and school achievement. They found only a weak relationship in the lower grades of primary school, and at the end of primary schooling the effects are no longer evident.

The study looked at the achievement of fourth- (ages 10 and 11) and eighth-grade pupils (ages 14 and 15) in 844 primary schools in Croatia. Pupils were divided into groups of younger and older school entrants based on the difference between their year of birth and the year of school entry.

In the fourth grade, older entrants performed slightly better in all subjects than those who were younger when they entered school, but these differences in achievement were very small (effect sizes ranged from 0.02 to 0.07). By the eighth grade, there was no difference in achievement between younger and older entrants in the majority of subjects. However, contrary to the fourth grade sample, in the subjects where differences in achievement were found, the younger school entrants outperformed the older school entrants, but the effect sizes were again very small (effect sizes ranged from 0 to 0.12). In both samples, school entrance age explains less than one per cent of the variance in school achievement in different subjects.

Source: The relation between school entrance age and school achievement during primary schooling: Evidence from Croatian primary schools (2012), British Journal of Educational Psychology , 83(4)