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.

September children spring forward, August children fall back

A new report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that, relative to children born in September, children born in August, on average:

  • score substantially lower in national achievement tests and other measures of cognitive skills;
  • are more likely to study for vocational qualifications if they stay on in post-compulsory education;
  • are less likely to attend a Russell Group (high-status) university at age 19;
  • have lower confidence in their academic ability and are less likely to believe that they control their own destiny as teenagers.

While a future study plans to identify the causes of these findings, schools may be keen to consider practical ways to address these issues. For example, they may consider reviewing the extent to which curriculum provision is developmentally appropriate for the youngest children in the first terms of schooling; how summer borns are supported in meaningfully interacting with their older peers, as equals, in classroom and playtime activities, and the role that social-emotional learning might play in enhancing achievement.

Source: Does when you are born matter? The impact of month of birth on children’s cognitive and non-cognitive skills in England (2011), Institute for Fiscal Studies