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

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.