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 66.

    Somebody here suggested something about the parents being careful when they conceive.
    Funny, I have a friend, her eldest two were born in early and late August. She made very sure that her youngest would be an August baby too (she was ready to settle for any summer month!)!

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    At my school 6 of us passed the 11+ a year early, we should obviously have been given O-Levels there and then?
    My 6yr old and his class mates read and write better than my wife's GCSE English class. Amazing what can be done at a prep school when they don't have to follow the NC! Though my wife's pupils will still get C's, as a member of TKAT the pupils are allowed/encouraged to cheat in exams.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    More meddling to try to fix a system that isn't broken. My daughter was born late summer and is the youngest in Y6 at her school. Admittedly she was a bit slow out of the blocks, but she does her SATS in a couple of weeks, and she's taking level 6 in maths & English. By the time they reach Y6 they will have caught up, providing they get the parental support that our kids do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Simple concept really, CORRELATION IS NOT CAUSATION!!!
    Of course "summer babies" will start smoking at an earlier age, smoking starts and disseminates in a group. They will all start at around the same time which ipso facto means the younger kids start smoking earlier. Perhaps they don't do as well in exams because they're distracted by planning upcoming birthday parties?

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    As pointed out, differences converge with increasing age. By the time children are studying for formal qualifications, the difference is extremely slight.
    I would agree with a previous article on the topic, suggesting that parents should be able to opt for their children, if born in the summer, to be placed into the previous year. I see absolutely no reason why this shouldn't be implemented

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    What this sort of article shows, more than anything, is how many people react to stastics by just talking about themselves e.g. ''my son was born in August and gets top grades, so this research must be rubbish'' , etc. Your own experience does not (in and of itself prove) a statistic is incorrect. Please stop being so self involved.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    I'd like someone to focus, for once, on all the other things that affect summer-born children. At school they are expected to act like all their peers in the same year group, yet are often excluded from external activities that older classmates can take part in. One summer my daughter couldn't do water sports, soon it will be DofE which my daughter will have to do a year later than her friends.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    I am an Aries, can I have an extra 5% please?

    Yet another academic report that concludes 2+2=5

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Utter, utter nonsense.

    I was born in February and moved between six schools as I came from an armed forces family. I did well at school and at college because I studied, worked hard and didn't allow myself to get drawn in with the wrong crowd.

    All this will do is discourage students from their studies and alienate them from other students, making them undisciplined later in life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Yes, why don't we just leave everything alone and continue disadvantaging kids based on their date of birth! I know first hand how much your date of birth can alter your life and prospects. I was born a tad too early to drop down a year. Back in the 1960's (when we had REAL exams), my A levels were just short of a uni place. 2 years later I was sailing through HND with distinction & felt cheated.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Surely it can't be that the eggs and sperm we produce in November / December are poorer than at other times. I suspect August-born children in the colder nordic countries, or those with school terms that run January-December aren't similarly afflicted.

    Perhaps those born during the school summer holidays should be held back until the start of the following September term?

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    What next I wonder ?

    How about adjusting the results for your child's IQ ?

    That sounds very fair - lower the pass mark if you are not so bright.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    My youngest daughter is in Year 2 and was born in late-August. She is doing much better than some children in her class who were born the September before. Don't for goodness sake start pigeon-holing children because of their age - it is all down to individual ability.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Mr Gove.

    Maybe you are an under achiever , but don't label everyone else the same if they are born in June, July , August.

    It's simply not true.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Is this the best that the IFS can come up with. How about teaching our children properly, Xs tables, grammar etc instead of all the PC rubbish they teach them now.
    Dont talk to me about education in this country, its anagramatically carp

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Due to an admin issue, I spent my entire school career with a class a whole year older than me - some almost 14 months older. Yet I was one of just two to pass a scholarship and spent my entire secondary education also in the top two or three of the class. Oddly enough, I was also the tallest!

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Does that mean summer-born kids can now achieve 105% in tests if they're really clever? Is that an A**?

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    It would be less of a problem if it were easier for bright September pupils to be moved up a year and late developing August to be held back. My daughter was an August baby and it was fine but if had been born a few weeks later and so in the year below at school that would have been awful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Why do I go to school? To be moulded into a homogenised drone unable to think outside of the prescribed consensus. You'll be taught to absorb meaningless data & be discouraged from thinking independently all this to prevent your becoming a threat to the status quo. If you're lucky you'll get work, pay taxes & contribute to the perpetuation of this system of corporate serfdom. Now do your homework.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Whilst I can see that an age difference of several months would make a big difference to a child of 4-5, I'm sure that by the time they are 15-16 and doing their GCSE's the difference is negligible.

    There could be some impact regarding 11+ type exams though.

    I was born at the end of July.


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