Girls are already ahead of boys in English and maths skills when they start school, according to a study from the London borough of Wandsworth. Results of national tests and other research has shown girls to be doing better when they are as young as six or seven, an effect which carries through at least to GCSE.
Evidence from Wandsworth's evaluation of more than 2,000 children starting primary school is thought to be the first to show that girls enter school with an advantage, indicating that girls' supremacy may not be caused by being treated differently in school.
Wandsworth found that 24 per cent of girls were in the top performance band in the local authority's "baseline assessment" measures for reading-related, mathematical and scientific skills, compared with 17 per cent of boys. Meanwhile, 19 per cent of girls were in the lowest band, compared with 26 per cent of boys.
Wandsworth was the first local authority to introduce baseline assessment for five-year-olds with a pilot in 1990, and the first formal assessment in 1992. Although it was heavily criticised at the time, a number of authorities, including Labour-controlled Birmingham, have followed suit, and the Association of Metropolitan Authorities has recommended that its members introduce schemes. Wandsworth's director of research and evaluation, Steve Strand, said the assessment was carried out in the form of a game, in short group activities, and that the process was explained thoroughly to parents.
Wandsworth's study also backs up other evidence that children who have had nursery education outperform their classmates. Even taking account of age, those with a nursery background scored up to 25 per cent higher. However, as shown in other studies, summer-born children performed less well than their older classmates.
Bilingual pupils and those whose first language was not English benefited especially from nursery education, Wandsworth found.