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 306.

    Quite obvious people just don't get it on here. I come from a large extended family and I know a number of summer-born children (not just in the extended family) and all of them without exception are disadvantaged compared to some of their friends that are almost a year older. And the difference is even bigger when they are younger.

    So totally agree, consideration needs to be given to birthdate!

  • rate this

    Comment number 305.

    Once children reach 15/16 their maturity is not based on the time of year they were born. Girls are more mature than boys, and all are influenced by upbringing and environment.
    I agree summer babies may struggle in the first years at school but you do not have to put your child into mainstream school until 5 - not many parents seem to know that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 304.

    This is a load of rubbish. I'm a July baby, and I topped my class at GCSE with 13 Grades: 2As, 11A*s.

    Whatever age you are when you start school, you spend the SAME NUMBER OF YEARS learning before your GCSEs as everyone else in the class.

  • rate this

    Comment number 303.

    Children starting school can be 20% younger than some classmates in the same academic year - This can make a massive difference academically!

    Also there is good evidence that summer exams put hay fever sufferers at a disadvantage.

    We should always strive for fairness and for some that is clearly not the case under the current system.

  • rate this

    Comment number 302.

    265 - "Please look up average and understand what it means"

    We do understand what average means - it can mean not much at all!
    If there are two deaths on a ward, one is a 2 year old baby, and one is an 80 year old man, the average age of people dying on that ward is 41 years old.
    Yet no 41 year old died.
    Statistics and averages can be made to say anything.

  • rate this

    Comment number 301.

    I suppose the obvious solution is to adjust the school year. If we start it in the winter, we appear to solve the problem ....

  • rate this

    Comment number 300.

    I am an August born and I did struggle in primary school, so it was descided that I would be held back a year. Best thing to happen to me so far.
    This took me from the bottom of the class to the top and thats where I stayed.
    I now run a laboratory in a prominant Aerospace & Defence company.

  • rate this

    Comment number 299.

    Having being born in August, I can categorically say any perceived academical disadvantage I may have had due to my age was more than made up for by the fact I never had to go to school on my birthday!!

    Easier exams or constant sunny birthdays at home? it's a no brainer for me :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 298.

    What has their birthday got to do with it. They all start school on the same day, and taught the same things. I was a July birthday and one of the youngest in my class, and my sons were late July and August.

    Exams shouldnt be touched - but there is a real need for 2 intakes per year, September and sometime in Spring

  • rate this

    Comment number 297.

    As someone that was born in August I think this is a load of tosh. The only thing that kept me from reaching my full potential was me. I achieved better results than people born in September and some born then got better results than me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 296.

    Don't think this argument is water-tight. I was born in September but started school a year earlier than I should have, so that I would start with my friends who were "a year ahead". I finished Secondary at 16 having completed 6th Year and did so with good qualifications

  • rate this

    Comment number 295.

    My three year old has just got a first from Cambridge and she was born in August, so the statistics must be wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 294.

    What makes the difference is maturity which ironically doesn't always go with age! Kids who are motivated and up for it can out weigh any age factors. We should be discussing what the Asian gangs are doing to our kids week in week out rather than this non story!
    Come on BBC you tried to put a gloss on Bradford last night,(no mention of supercars bought with drug cash!) time to get real I think!

  • rate this

    Comment number 293.

    The conclusion that I reach after reading the comments below is that most people don't understand statistics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 292.

    it's not April fools day again, is it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 291.

    Life just aint fair, how scandalous!!!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 290.

    I turned 16 a week after I recived my GCSE results, and did better than any of my 3 younger siblings all of whom were born much earlier in the school year.
    This is despite the fact that I was the only member of the family to have learning dificulties (which were serious enough to get me a statment of special needs)

  • rate this

    Comment number 289.

    Always gets me how you get those on here saying "my child's August born and really bright" or "I was born in September and near the bottom of my class". For goodness sake, they are talking about averages - an exception does not make a rule.

    Children born in September have 11 months maturity on August born, helping them cope with exams etc. Exams should be sat only when a child is ready.

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    270. Doragan
    That said, however, the percentages they are talking about are pretty small, and might not be worth the worry
    What's more they decrease so much that by the time you look at those gaining degrees it's less than 1%, which is well within expected variation. Sadly the researchers failed to present a statistical hypothesis so it is difficult to say anything meaningful about the data.

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    Discretionary adjustments to exams and entry criteria takes away transparency and returns us to an age where only the opinion of a privilged few mattered. It is wide open to abuse. Lets fix the system: first correctly specify the problem then change the system to correct this before the child takes external exams.


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