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Paul Bradshaw

The senior research director at the Scottish Centre for Social Research and project manager of the Growing Up in Scotland study talks about why the large-scale longitudinal survey is important for teachers. Interview by Emma Seith. Photography Alistair Linford

The senior research director at the Scottish Centre for Social Research and project manager of the Growing Up in Scotland study talks about why the large-scale longitudinal survey is important for teachers. Interview by Emma Seith. Photography Alistair Linford

What is the Growing Up in Scotland (GUS) survey?

It's a large-scale, longitudinal study, launched in 2005, with two groups of children - about 3,000 children born in 2002-03 and 5,000 in 2004-05. We have followed them since, but in 2011 we recruited another 6,000 born in 2010-11. The new group allows us to compare the experiences of the children with those born in 2004-05. It's allowing us to look at what has and hasn't changed for children growing up in Scotland in the past six or seven years.

What's its purpose?

It is funded by the Scottish government, so a key aim is to support evidence-based policy. In particular, we are looking at how the circumstances and experiences of children in the early period of their lives impact on their later outcomes.

Why should teachers be interested?

The children in our oldest age group represent about one in 10 of all children in P3 or 4. So when we produce results, we are not saying "Here is information about children in our study," but "Here is information about children in P3 and 4 in Scotland." We have produced very significant findings about the influence of their early experiences on their development at school entry. Our next set of findings will look at how children's position at the start of school changes over time.

What were your findings?

Children of degree-educated parents on average had a vocabulary ability on entry to school 18 months ahead of those whose parents had no qualifications.

Will this latest piece of research examine whether school can compensate for the advantages gained in the home?

No, because we have not tested them at age eight. But we will look at parents' perceptions of whether the child is coping or succeeding at school and the child's own perspectives on how they are enjoying it - whether that starting point at age five makes a difference for those sorts of experiences. At P6, we will be measuring these sorts of cognitive aspects of the child's development again.

When will the new data be made public?

Spring 2014. It will include information from the first child questionnaire, where children have told us about their experience of school. We have been working with Education Scotland on the questionnaire; it will include data about how children are experiencing Curriculum for Excellence. We will be looking to see whether their experiences match with what Education Scotland would expect.

Some say we will never know if CfE is working, because the government isn't funding any research. Will this do that?

I don't think it will - we don't have a control group, so we don't know whether children of the same age experiencing something slightly different would have the same outcomes. We'll be able to look at the child's experiences but won't be able to make statements about whether or not CfE is making a difference.

Can you summarise the most interesting findings to date?

They are associated with very early gaps identified in children's ability, depending on social background. That has been very useful in finding the kinds of characteristics that seem to hold children back and the factors that, among the more disadvantaged group, make them resilient. It's by focusing on them that we hope to influence policy and close the gap.

What are the factors that make them more resilient?

Children - irrespective of their background - who have been read to and interacted with tend to do better.

Do you lose sleep over the findings?

They can be a little depressing, but the importance that is attached to them by the government departments we work with, by voluntary organisations and the other bodies interested in the study, like the health boards, is encouraging, so we know our findings are making a difference.

In what ways has the survey influenced Scottish government policy?

Its findings were influential in bringing about the Play, Talk, Read campaign and were heavily cited in the development of the government's recently published national parenting strategy. We've also had impact at a local level. For instance, some of our earliest findings around antenatal education have influenced its delivery, particularly concerning younger mums. I think the direction the government is going in, in terms of early years policy, is positive and makes me feel optimistic.

How long will the survey continue?

We would hope to continue following the kids until early adulthood, so covering that whole transition from school to work or further education. The current funding sees us through to 2016, when the oldest group will be in P6 and our new cohort will be aged five.

How much does the survey cost to run?

Roughly #163;1 million a year.

What are you working on just now?

In February, we will publish the first set of results from the new birth cohort, so that will give us a very detailed insight into the lives of children aged 10 months in 2011. But it's also the first chance for us to compare how children born in 2010-11 are similar to and different from those born in 2004-05.


Born: Bellshill, 1977

Education: St Patrick's High, North Lanarkshire; MA Hons in sociology and theatre studies, University of Glasgow; master's in criminology and criminal justice, University of Edinburgh

Career: Research associate, University of Edinburgh law school; researcher, Scottish Children's Reporter Administration; 2005 joined Scottish Centre for Social Research, 2007 became research director, 2012 senior research director.

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