Delayed school entry linked with poorer results
A delay in starting school for summer-born or premature children may be linked with poor academic performance later on, a study suggests.
Some experts believe delayed school entry benefits this group of children.
However, the study found children who missed a year of learning often did worse in tests at the age of eight.
The research team, led by scientists at Warwick University, analysed the records of children born in the German state of Bavaria in 1985 and 1986.
They studied 999 children, of whom 472 were born before their due dates.
The researchers looked at teachers' assessments of the children's achievements in their first year of school and compared these with results of standardised maths, reading, writing and attention tests when the children were eight.
The researchers say many parents are keen to hold their children back a year if they are born prematurely or in the summer months, believing they are not mature enough.
Previous research has backed this view for children who are born more than three weeks before their due date.
However, the new analysis found delayed school entry could mean children missed out on learning opportunities "during the critical early years".
At the time the data was collected, children in Bavaria were assessed for school-readiness by a community paediatrician in the year before they were due to start school at six.
This meant the researchers were able to compare the school records of children who started at the expected age with those whose entry was held back a year.
The records reveal no difference between the two groups of children in teacher assessments in their first year of school.
But both groups took the standardised tests at the age of eight whether they had started school aged six or a year later, and the results showed the children who started later than their peers did worse.
"Our study shows that delaying school entry has no effect on year-one teacher ratings of academic performance, but it is associated with poorer performance in age-standardised tests of reading, writing, mathematics and attention as the children get older," said Prof Dieter Wolke, of the psychology department and Warwick Medical School.
Dr Julia Jaekel, of the Ruhr University Bochum department of developmental psychology, said many parents of preterm children believed delaying school entry would be more beneficial.
"Many parents demand that preterm children should be held back, particularly if they were born in the summer. This is also supported by many charities supporting parents with preterm children.
"However, we found missing one year of learning opportunities was associated with poorer average performance in standardised tests at eight years of age for both preterm and full-term children.
"Future research is needed to determine the long-term effect of delayed school entry on academic achievement, but our results certainly give parents and educational providers food for thought."
The researchers drew on data from the Bavarian Longitudinal Study, which followed children born in the state in the mid-1980s.
The research is published in the Journal of Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology.