TWINS are doing better at school thanks largely to a tendency for women to have babies later in life.
Twins were previously found to lag behind their classmates in their early years at school because their language skills were not as well developed. But now, according to researchers from Durham University, they start school with good literacy and numeracy skills and can keep up with their classmates in English and maths.
The number of twins and multiple births has nearly doubled in the past 20 years because of the increase in older mothers - statistically more likely to release more than one egg and to have fertility treatment. Another factor is the improved survival rates for premature babies. In 1977, two children in 104 were born twins -in 1997 it was two in 70.
In the past, twins had less interaction with adults than single-born children, but researchers believe that older mothers are now giving twins more individual attention.
Older mothers are more likely to be well-educated and to have pursued a career before parenthood - all factors associated with above-average academic performance in their children.
However, boy twins are more likely to have the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to research by the university and a Solihull headteacher.
Pat Preedy, head of Knowle primary school, became interested in the progress of twins after nine sets started at her school in 1992.
She said: "These finding are very good news for twins. One hypothesis is that their older parents are more likely to get very involved with their school progress and be more experienced at life in general."
She asked the Durham academics to monitor the performance of British twins as part of the Performance Indicators in Primary Schools (PIPS) project run by Professor Peter Tymms. The project assesses children as they enter school and then monitors their progress through school. The national survey of more than 10,000 children, including 221 twins and triplets, used "value-added" tests to assess whether pupils made more or less progress than expected.
Up until now, the most extensive research on twins has been done by Australian academic Professor David Hay.
He found no significant difference in IQ between twins and single-born children, but discovered that twins did less well in tests of verbal ability.
The twins in his study were found to have fewer adult-child interactions, so they continued with baby talk for longer than singletons. Twins also tend to speak more quickly in shorter sentences.
* Meanwhile, a national survey of 3,000 schools and nearly 620,000 pupils conducted by Mrs Preedy found that only 1 per cent of schools had a policy regarding twins and multiple-birth children.
However many teachers had firm views about separation or keeping twins together. Only 28 per cent consulted with parents about their twins and as few as 9 per cent discussed the options with the children.
Mrs Preedy said: "It seems likely that schools were not discussing provision for these children because they were unaware of the issues and their particular needs.
"Above all being a multiple should not be considered a handicap. The many positive aspects should be celebrated. For many of these children, starting school is their first experience of long-term separation. No wonder it could be traumatic with the double separation from twin and family."
News 3 TESJJuly 23 J1999 Doubles doing better: improved individual attention from parents is one of the reasons twins have caught up with their peers in the classroom, say academics tony stone images