THE early school starting age in England makes no difference to children's grasp of maths, a European-wide study has found.
And although the national numeracy strategy emphasises calculation skills, the researchers say an early talent for arithmetic does not alone predict good national test scores later on.
The project tracked 300 English children and compared their progress to 1,977 children in Belgium, Germany, Greece, Slovenia and the Netherlands who started school later.
Professor Carol Aubrey, of Canterbury Christ Church University College, presented initial findings at the British Educational Research Association conference last week.
She said that children's mathematical skills depended overwhelmingly on their age, whether they had started school or not.
Professor Aubrey said: "By the time they are nine, Slovenian children have been in formal schooling for two years but there doesn't appear to be any advantage for English children with their earlier start. It just doesn't show."
She and colleague Dr Ray Godfrey also found that although children's arithmetical skills at five years old corresponded with their achievements at seven, the link was even stronger when their ability at problem-solving and understanding of underlying concepts was also taken into account.
A sub-study of the English and Slovenian children, found that the head start English children have in arithmetic is soon lost, and their understanding of underlying concepts such as shape, order and quantity is not as good.
During the late 1990s, a number of studies tracking pre-school children through to their key stage 1 assessments at seven found that the particular pre- and primary school a pupil attended had a significant effect on their progress.
One study concluded that the difference a school made was more important for maths than for English.
But little work has been done on what factors affect the way older children learn maths.