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

Related Stories

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."


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 286.

    Personally I blame the immigrants, single parents, the EU and benefit scroungers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    To be fair I was born on the 5th of August and I was one of the most academically successful people in my year, with the same or better results than many of my older friends who were born at the academic year

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.

    My girlfriend went to a better school than me, had a private tutor for any subjects she struggled in and her parents were very pro-active in her education. She achieved mostly A's and A*'s, compared with my C's; despite me being better at Maths, English Language and Science in the real word.

    Basically doing well in exams is mostly about your background and schooling.

  • rate this

    Comment number 283.

    Why not go the whole hog and say younger children should sit a different, easier exam? Any test that hides actual results achieved behind layers of 'correction' factors is devalued.

  • rate this

    Comment number 282.

    Simplistically, let's assume it was August only. If a child is then born on 31 July then they do not qualify for the boost but their friend, born 1 day later on Aug 1 does.

    My point, there has to be a cut-off somewhere, it will never be fair. But that's a life lesson in itself. Life isn't fair.

  • rate this

    Comment number 281.

    Did they get the kids born in August to take similar exams 11 months later to see what they could have achieved if they'd been the same age as the Sept kids?

    If not, the numbers could be due to anything. Maybe, on average, less able parents have sex in November/December more than more able parents do.

    So, did they try adjusting the results for the parents' abilities?

  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    And this is what happens when you have a school system that assumes all kids born in the same academic year have the same abilities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 279.

    People, please stop trying to disprove something just because you did well despite being younger or did poorly despite being older. You cannot generalise for a whole population from your position. The IFS study speaks volumes dindependent of how they plan to combat it:

    "More than 60% of September-born pupils achieve five A* to C grades, compared with less than 54% of those born in August."

  • rate this

    Comment number 278.

    I thought that different pupils got different grades because of different abilities,aptitudes and attitude to schoolwork? Boosting the grades of some pupils at the expense of others is about as demoralizing to the hard working pupils as you can get...let's just give everyone an "A" and forget about teaching at all?

  • rate this

    Comment number 277.

    I like the idea of giving out the actual % mark attained rather than A-F grades.

  • rate this

    Comment number 276.

    I woz born in septomber and I'm as thick as 2 short planks. my spellin is Ok, i fink

  • rate this

    Comment number 275.


    By the end of year 11 the age performance gap is only worth about half a GCSE this should not stop any student following the path they wish.

    If a strict grade boundary is applied to post 16 then ague you case you will get on course if you want it bad enough

  • rate this

    Comment number 274.

    I was born in August and have a PhD in genetics.

    But that's completely irrelevant. Because unlike a depressingly large number of 'clever' people on here, I have a basic understanding of statistics and am aware that my individual experience is just that. One person's situation doesn't automatically disprove the general trend of a huge dataset. It's about probability, not blanket rules. Irony much?

  • rate this

    Comment number 273.

    Utter piffle. How can this country be broke if we can find the money to fund meaningless reports such as this that will have no outcome and will soon be consigned to someones waste basket.

  • rate this

    Comment number 272.

    Are any of these findings statistically significant? Yes the percentages are different but that doesn't mean there is a significant trend.

  • rate this

    Comment number 271.

    I think I have actually gone insane. This article is pure drivel. Being the youngest in my year and behind many others I stayed after school to catch up and read a lot more. By the time I was 11 I was average instead of bottom. Had this been around I wouldn't have made the effort to improve my scores, I would have claimed its my right as I'm the youngest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 270.

    Articles like this are always going to get the responses that go something like this: "Person X was born on 31st August, and they got good marks, so this work is obviously wrong."
    This doesn't mean that the statistics shown are wrong, they are 1 person out of thousands, a single statistic. That said, however, the percentages they are talking about are pretty small, and might not be worth the worry

  • rate this

    Comment number 269.

    More political fudging. Stop mixing abilities in the classroom, having the brighter kids working alongside those who need more assistance just slows down the progress of the majority in the classroom.

    Support where support is needed and by the time they sit their GCSE's there is no need to fudge results due to 'age'. 'Some' parents need to take responsibility in helping their kids learn as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 268.

    By the age of 16, any differences due to age should be negligible, because they've all spent the same amount of time in school. I can see it mattering in years 1 or 2, but not by year 11.

    I think they're fixating on age. If it was solely age, you'd expect a steady decrease in results from September through to August, but this isn't what you get at all - so there's something else involved as well

  • rate this

    Comment number 267.

    I thought exam results were how employers and further education establishments determined who the gifted students were? It's difficult enough to establish this given the number of A's and A*'s being awarded without employers having to take into account whatever spurious adjustments have been made in the interests of "fairness".


Page 25 of 39


More Education & Family stories



Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.