Summer-born pupils 'should have exam scores boosted'

Primary classroom All school tests should be marked on a sliding scale according to pupils age, says the study

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Summer-born children should have their exam marks boosted to compensate for being almost a year younger when they sit tests, a report argues.

In England, pupils born in August are less likely to get good GCSEs or go to university than those born in September, the Institute for Fiscal Studies says.

Some may even drop out of school.

The age-adjusted scores should be used to calculate school league table positions, the authors argue.

The report draws on an array of official data, including the National Pupil Database, which contains details of every pupil in England.

Report co-author Lorraine Dearden said: "In a world where everything was fair we would expect the proportion of kids by month of birth who get the expected level at each age to be the same."

But the report finds this is not the case, with a significant gap even at GCSE level. More than 60% of September-born pupils achieve five A* to C grades, compared with less than 54% of those born in August.

Mild special needs

August-born students are also around two percentage points less likely to go to university when they leave school, one percentage point less likely to attend a leading university and one percentage point less likely to complete a degree.

Some 12.5% of August-born pupils are assessed as having mild special educational needs by age 11, compared with only 7.1% of those born in September.

"Our research shows that children who are relatively young in their year have lower self-confidence, lower belief in their academic ability, and are more likely to start smoking younger than their relatively older peers," said co-author Claire Crawford.

The authors argue that being 11 months younger than the oldest pupils in the year when they sit tests is the main driver of the differences in test scores.

It outweighs the effect of having had less time at school in areas where summer-born children start education later in the year.

The report says the solution is to "age-adjust" national achievement test scores, arguing that this "is a simple and straightforward way of ensuring that those born towards the end of the academic year are not disadvantaged by taking the tests younger".

The team analysed scores from the Key Stage 2 tests, which are taken by all pupils in their final year of primary school in England. Primary school league table positions depend on pupils achieving an expected standard.

Sliding scale

They found that August-born pupils scored on average seven points less than classmates born in September.

They conclude that pass marks should rise for September-born children by three points: "So the oldest children would have to perform slightly better than they do at the moment in order to reach the expected level, which would now be an expected level for a given age rather than at a particular point in time."

The marks would change on a sliding scale, with the pass mark for children born in October and November rising by two points; for January and December-born children by one mark; staying the same for February and March children; and reducing by one point for those with April or May birthdays, by two points for those born in June or July, and by three points for those born in August.

The authors recommend that similar age-adjusted scores be extended to other school tests, from assessments of six-year-olds' reading skills to the crucial exams taken by 16-year-olds.

Start Quote

If you started having different exam grades for children born in different months it would be extremely complicated. No one would understand it and there would be disputes”

End Quote Dame Sally Coates Academy headteacher

However, the authors acknowledge that the differences are most dramatic when children are first at school, and lessen as they grow older and the relative age gap reduces. There is no evidence that they persist into adulthood. So the exam results given to prospective employers should be absolute scores rather than age-adjusted, they concede.

'Intensive intervention'

Head teachers warned that tinkering with pass marks could have unintended consequences.

Brian Lightman, of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "Telling summer-born children that they don't have to perform as well as their peers will do nothing to raise their self-esteem, confidence or achievement in later life.

"Employers need graduates who have reached a certain standard of education. Giving some students a grade which is adjusted downwards would lower their standard of achievement when it actually needs to be raised. This will have the opposite effect to what is intended."

Dame Sally Coates, head of Burlington Danes Academy in west London, told the Today programme on Radio 4 that she had not personally seen evidence of a birthday-related performance gap at secondary level.

She suggested that instead of tinkering with exams there should be "intensive intervention for younger children in early primary school".

Dame Sally said: "If you started having different exam grades for children born in different months, it would be extremely complicated. No one would understand it and there would be disputes."

Prof Rachel Brooks, of the University of Surrey, agreed early intervention could help prevent disparities in educational outcome.

She said: "The way in which pupils are grouped can have an effect - streaming tends to compound disadvantage, while summer-born children tend to do better within mixed-ability classes."

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "We trust teachers to put their pupils' results into context when discussing them with parents, particularly for young children where age can have a strong influence on the scores.

"In addition, we have changed the schools admissions code to make it easier for parents to defer their child's entry until they reach their fifth birthday."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Is this anything to do with Horoscopes?

    Are Leos and Virgos predisposed to need extra marks to bring them up to a level playing field with Scorpios and Librans.

    I actually think they do, but no amount of argument or statistics is going to convince the Great British public whose instinctive reaction to anything vaguely Scientific is to doubt the credentials of experts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Maybe the pregnancy term has an effect?

    With a summer born child the Mother may have been unaware of being pregnant and Drank alcohol during Christmas / new year celebrations?

    I wasnt born in summer but I found school lessons tediously slow and boring - if I'd have been born in the summer they may not have seemed so ;)

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    The extract of a paragraph above says it all:- "crucial exams taken by 16-year-olds" I was only 15 when I left School having my birthday the 3rd week of August, some of my class mates started to drive shortly after!

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    This report just looks like a great advert for statistical manipulation of data for ones own benefit.

    I was one of the oldest in my school year but I was far from the cleverest and started smoking early. My son is one of the youngest in his year yet he is bright, confident and doesn't smoke

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Everyone using your own anecdotal evidence, please stop!
    Trends are made with hundreds of thousands of pieces of data, just because your experience doesn't fit in doesn't make the data wrong.

    However, the difference between Sept:Aug is pretty small and I agree with the person that mentioned the social situation. You can't means adjust based on the kids parents - their influence is more important.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    People are individual. My youngest is in the position of being one of the youngest in his year. However, academically he is ahead of his peers. Please save us from some dodgy fudging of the exams again. We need exams to be a fair measure of what someone is capable of. The best option is to give all those who slipping behind extra support early on regardless of when in the year they are born.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Oh it's not fair. Oh I could have done better. Oh someone give them some boost. Poor people need it, people with low confidence need it, people not born at the right time need it.
    We are born different, no system is going to be fair for everyone. Why don't we remove the school year restrictions all together? You can start school whenever you like. Go to school when you are 20, that will help you!

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Well being nearly a year younger than all the other kids is obviously for some kids going to be an issue and for others not. Your more likely i guess to be smaller and therefore probably get picked on more which in turn could affect your self confidence and your work. Its just another issue on top of many that schools, parents and of course the kids themselves have to deal with.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    My daughter's birthday is on 27th of August, she is the youngest in her year, however she is the top of her year in math and one of the 5 top in English. My birthday is 23rd of August, I haven't had any problems either, I have PhD in History, actually

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    What a heap of priceless nonsense! Next it will be July kids' parents or other busy-bodies complaining, and then June and so on. How would this 'age-adjusted' scoring be administered nationally? All it would lead to would be a stream of appeals and a major admin nightmare for a struggling school system to deal with. Provide extra help for struggling kids instead of fiddling with their scores.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    One of the stupidest ideas I have ever heard.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Daft idea. Exam results are already boosted to make targets look good. Children are not allowed to be "last" in competitions as it might sap their confidence!! Also too many take their kids on holidays during term time or take them shopping/swimming etc which is a far greater problem. Many parents do not encourage or help with reading/spelling/simple adding up. Parental responsibility is needed

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Nonsense.Life is not fair so get used to it.Class will always rise to the top,regardless of age.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    I can't wait for all the August born adults to come on, claiming that they're clever and did well at school, and that 'proves' that the statistics are wrong.

    In fact, the only thing it will prove is that they are not as intelligent as they think they are....

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    I was born in June. It had very little effect on me, apart from being one of the last to be able to purchase alcohol! I obtained good GCSE and A-Level results at a very average school, then went onto a Russell Group university.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    re top rated 5
    You are so right.What we need is a compliant secretary of state with no ideas, unchallenging, who will keep the status quo, not change anything, and do what his officials and teaching unions want. That would be so much better for everyone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Another August born baby here who came out with straight As. I had incredibly supportive parents who read to me from a very young age, had me learning my timetables and spellings for each weekly test and encouraged me to read as many books as I can. I went on to study Law at University and am a qualified solicitor as well as Pilates instructor.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    The whole point of an exam is to mark everyone equally on their abilities at that point in time. No system could take into account differences in child development to the point of being fair. Give them the opportunity to take the exam later or ask higher institutions to take it into account. Leave the exams alone!

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Where can I get my results altered? I was disadvantaged cos my parents bought me a green bike and I wanted a red one

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    One can see why this is being discussed, 12 months can mean a huge difference in development for a child but not for an adult. The sticking point would always be how to rate the difference, as there will always be exceptions to the rule.


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