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Early schooling helps narrow boys’ disadvantage gap

Researchers say that deferring school entry for summer-born children should only happen in 'exceptional circumstances'

Disadvantaged boys benefit from an extra term of early schools, researchers have found.

Researchers say that deferring school entry for summer-born children should only happen in 'exceptional circumstances'

Early schooling helps to narrow the gap between boys from disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged backgrounds, new research has found.

Academics from University College London’s Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration said their results suggested that the school-entry point for summer-born children should only be deferred in “exceptional circumstances”.

The researchers analysed data from the national pupil database on more than 400,000 state school pupils in England born in 2000-01, as well as information on more than 7,000 children from the same cohort who took part in the Millennium Cohort Study.


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They found that an extra term of early schooling had a positive effect for teacher relationship, academic interest and disruptive behaviour for boys from disadvantaged backgrounds, up until age 11. 

It also led to increased test scores in language and numeracy at age 5 by 16-20 per cent; personal, social and emotional development at age 5 by 8 per cent; and language and numeracy skills at age 7 by about 10 per cent.

However, many of these effects were not present among boys from advantaged socioeconomic backgrounds.

Co-author Christian Dustmann, a professor at UCL, said: “An important finding of the study is that the large skills difference between boys from advantaged and disadvantaged family backgrounds can be substantially reduced by early schooling.

“This is in line with findings of higher positive effects for disadvantaged children of early childcare programmes in other countries, such as Germany.

“The reason why boys from low socioeconomic backgrounds benefit more strongly from early schooling may be that they experience lower-quality childcare when not enrolled in early childhood education.”

The paper says that the most plausible reason for disadvantaged boys benefiting more from additional schooling than disadvantaged girls is that “boys and girls respond differently to moving from a low SES [socioeconomic status] background to a more structured school environment, while parental behaviours towards them are similar”.

The authors said their findings suggested that the benefits of deferring school entry for summer-born children were outweighed by the negatives.

Co-author Thomas Cornelissen, a professor at the University of York, said: “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 paper, due to be published in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy in May, concludes: “Our results show that the effect of additional early schooling at age 4 to 5 achieved by bringing the school starting age slightly forward is positive, and has especially large effects up to age 7 for boys from weaker socioeconomic backgrounds.”

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