Boys from poorer backgrounds gain most from not delaying school start

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Disadvantaged boys benefit most from starting Reception in September, according to new research.

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On average the negative effect of losing one term of reception class outweighs the potentially positive effect of deferment, researchers say

A study by the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM) at UCL has found an additional term of Reception has a positive effect on boys from disadvantaged backgrounds.
 
The researchers analysed information on more than 400,000 children born in 2000-01 who attended state schools in England, combined with information on more than 7,000 English children from the same birth cohort that took part in the Millennium Cohort Study.
 
The study compared children who entered Reception at the start of the academic year to summer-born children who in some local authority areas are deferred by one or two terms.
 
Researchers investigated how earlier versus later transition into Reception impacted on cognitive and non-cognitive skills up to Year 6, with results showing that while all children benefitted from early schooling, the average effects were higher in disadvantaged boys.
 
For this group, an extra term in Reception increased test scores in language and numeracy at age five by 16-20 per cent, and at age seven by 10 per cent.

In comparison, the average across all children saw an increase in scores in language and numeracy at age five of 6-10 per cent, and at age seven by 2 per cent.

Following an extra term in Reception, scores in tests of personal, social, and emotional development at age five increased by 5 per cent on average, but by 8 per cent in disadvantaged boys.

For boys from high socio-economic backgrounds, many of these effects were close to zero, the research found.

For all children, the effects of an extra term on cognitive skills had largely disappeared by age 11, but more lasting effects were observed on non-cognitive outcomes.

Earlier school entry was found to improve pupil-teacher relationships and skills such as academic interest and good behaviour at ages seven and 11.

Professor of economics at UCL, director of CReAM and study co-author Christian Dustmann, said, ‘The reason why boys from low socio-economic backgrounds benefit more strongly from early schooling may be that they experience lower-quality childcare when not enrolled in early childhood education.
 
‘The starting age of formal schooling differs widely across countries, with the UK among the countries in which formal schooling starts the earliest. Yet, to date there exists little evidence on what the optimal starting age for formal schooling is.’
 
Study co-author, CReAM research fellow professor Thomas Cornelissen of the University of York, added, ‘The idea behind deferment by one or two terms is to give the youngest children some time to become more mature and school ready. But it seems that on average the negative effect of losing one term of reception class outweighs the potentially positive effect of deferment, in particular for boys from disadvantaged family backgrounds.
 
“The school-entry policy that should be recommended based on our results is a uniform school-entry date at the start of the academic year, while allowing deferment in exceptional circumstances. Importantly, this is the policy that most local authorities today have adopted.”

The article will be published in the May edition of the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy.

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