More local authorities are admitting younger four-year-olds to reception class, even though research shows that this does not help their attainments at six or seven.
A report from the National Foundation for Educational Research says just under a third of LEAs have changed their entry policy recently to favour younger four-year-olds. Information was gathered from 102 LEAs. "The main reason given for change was to give summer-born children more time at school," says the report by Caroline Sharp.
However, in all the 14 local authorities who provided their national test results for key stage 1, summer-born children had the worst results. "In the authority with the greatest difference, 69 per cent of autumn-borns achieved level 2 or more in their KS1 assessments, compared with only 53 per cent of summer-borns."
The results did not support the common theory that summer-borns do worse because they have had less schooling than other children, having spent fewer terms in reception. There was no apparent relationship between length of schooling and the KS1 results in LEAs with different entry policies. The study also provides further evidence that the summer-born effect continues to GCSE and A-level.
Caroline Sharp concludes that summer-born children's poorer results at KS1 reflect the fact that the results are not adjusted to reflect age differences. "Poor academic performance could reinforce the psychological impact of being compared unfavourably with older children in the age-group by teachers, parents and by the children themselves."
She suggests that all national assessments should be adjusted for age and that entry policies should consider the needs of young children. If younger four-year-olds are admitted to school, LEAs and primary heads should allocate resources and develop policies to ensure an appropriate curriculum.
The research summary, School Entry and the Impact of Season of Birth on Attainment, is available free from the Dissemination Unit, NFER, The Mere, Upton Park, Slough SL1 2DQ.