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Research: September-borns do better at GCSE?

(82 Posts)
stubiff Wed 07-Aug-19 09:20:46

Following on from my offer here

TeenTimesTwo asked

Do children born in September perform better at GCSE? Does the most recent evidence still suggest it?

We are talking averagely, not every child born in September.
The graph is from FFT (see below).
There may be other reports/data you want to look at.
If you know of any other relevant reports then please shout.
Don't shoot the messenger!

Data Source IFS
"...large differences in educational attainment between children born at the start and end of the academic year in England."
"differences are largest soon after children start school and decrease as they get older."
"relative to children born in September, children born in August are 6.4% less likely to achieve five GCSEs or equivalents at grades A*–C."
"and around 2% less likely to go to university at age 18 or 19"
"and around 2.3% less likely to attend a high-status Russell Group institution if they do"
"even a one-month difference in age has an effect"
"those born in January are 2.8% less likely to achieve five A*–C grades in GCSE"
"those born in August are 5.4% more likely to be labelled as having mild special educational needs at age 11"

Data Source FFT
Data Source FFT Education Datalab
"August-born pupils close the gap as they get older but remain behind September-born peers by the end of KS4."
"in terms of raw attainment (Attainment 8), they (Aug-born) remain 0.3 grades per subject behind (Sep-born)"

Data Source Durham University
"Probably the simplest solution in the short term is to routinely age-standardise all assessment results."
"no valid reason why the younger children in each year group should have a worse chance in education because of a bureaucratically convenient decision outside their control."

OP’s posts: |
TeenTimesTwo Wed 07-Aug-19 11:03:41

Wow Thank you. That really is quite stark isn't it?

I wonder what could reasonably be done about it? I can't see parents of winter born children being happy with age standardised GCSE results. Think of how much some people complain about university contextualised offers.

Deferring for Reception is all very well, but parents may be desperate for the child care and not realise the impact.

(I have an autumn born and a summer born, both of whom probably could have benefitted from an extra year somewhere.)

noblegiraffe Wed 07-Aug-19 11:21:00

Is that graph available for other years? The gap between Sept/Oct and Dec at GCSE seems quite wide when the distribution was fairly even at KS1 (I realise the scale is deceptive!).

Age standardising GCSE results would be problematic as they are supposed (although they don’t) to represent a certain standard of education achieved. If employers are saying ‘I want you to have a grade 4 in maths and that will mean that you have a certain level of numeracy’ then that would no longer be true if the September-born grade 4 had a higher level of numeracy than an August-born grade 4.

It would be like suggesting allowing more minor faults for certain groups of people sitting their driving test.

dingit Wed 07-Aug-19 11:29:22

My ds and his cousin were in the same class. She was September born, him August.
So when he was a month old she was walking. Obviously the development stages are narrower by school age, but for all of the foundation stage, ds was very tiny compared to his peers, and his fine motor skills were slow to develop. The family were always comparing their achievements 🙄
Fast forward to him a week shy of his 18th birthday and her a month shy of 19.
She got better gcse results, but not amazingly so. She is waiting for A level results, and is now not sure if she want to go to uni. He has a Btec equivalent qualification, and has landed himself a very good apprenticeship starting next month.

I know they are just an example, but I think it's quite a good one.

TeenTimesTwo Wed 07-Aug-19 11:41:42

So, why do we think it hasn't 'unwound' by GCSEs then?

Pure speculation without backup facts permitted, but input from teachers / other professionals appreciated!

Is it
- they don't grasp the basics so well, so are forever building on shaky foundations?
- early use of ability tables means they aren't subject to as hard work and over time this impacts
- they see their older peers being 'better' and thus lose confidence
- summer borns are intrinsically less capable (no I don't believe this)

Grasspigeons Wed 07-Aug-19 11:47:03

Puberty is quite a big time for brain development - maybe being a year younger in brain development has an impact.

stubiff Wed 07-Aug-19 11:59:28


Is that graph available for other years? The gap between Sept/Oct and Dec at GCSE seems quite wide when the distribution was fairly even at KS1 (I realise the scale is deceptive!).

Doesn't appear to be data fro other years.
Rough calcs show the Dec point to be about 38/40% (from Sep) on the scale for both KS1 and KS4, so roughly similar.

OP’s posts: |
noblegiraffe Wed 07-Aug-19 12:00:55

It impacts massively on sport - younger, less coordinated kids less likely to win races, be picked for teams and thus early on miss out on extra practice and training given to the already-advantaged older kids in the year group. Lack of success also means less enjoyment and engagement so they are less likely to make up the ground when they catch up physically.

Some of this must translate to academia. If you’re behind at the start you’re going to have to work extra hard compared to those in front just to catch up.

I’d love to see the graph broken down by sex and birth month. Younger boys in particular struggle with fine-motor skills and the demands of learning to write - I wonder if this impacts their education more than that of summer-born girls.

TeenTimesTwo Wed 07-Aug-19 12:12:16

Yes to sport. Malcolm Gladwell has a chapter on that in Outliers iirc.

That's why I think, at primary especially, teams should be open to all and not just 'the best'.

TeenTimesTwo Wed 07-Aug-19 12:15:34

Perhaps at primary (and maybe secondary too) all teams should have average age limits that move with the school year, thus forcing them to have younger kids on the team?

SlowMoFuckingToes Wed 07-Aug-19 12:31:50

There's been buckets of research about this for years and years. England is way behind in allowing summerborns to wait out a year. The differences go well beyond school as well. They matter for overall earning power etc.

TeenTimesTwo Wed 07-Aug-19 12:40:35

England is way behind in allowing summerborns to wait out a year.

Can you clarify what England does badly compared with other countries? How do other countries manage this better?

noblegiraffe Wed 07-Aug-19 12:43:51

My August-born is top of his class academically, making him wait out a year would have been a waste of his time.

Treating individual kids as if they are average data points isn’t the way forward.

WooMaWang Wed 07-Aug-19 12:54:00

Deferral doesn’t necessarily help the situation because it just makes the spring born children the most disadvantaged (if everyone defers) or makes the summer borns whose parents don’t defer at an even bigger disadvantage (statistically).

What would probably actually help is everyone starting school later, as developmental differences between a child just turned 7 and one about to turn 8 (for example) will have less profound impact on performance at school than they do at just turned 4/about to turn 5.

Zodlebud Wed 07-Aug-19 13:01:13

I am rather interested in why the % achieving drops so significantly for those born September to December. Does it indicate that actually, their achievement at lower stages of their education is simply down to being older and the tests are skewed so that it looks like they are achieving as they are so much “better” than the younger children? Or are they getting complacent at being the higher achieving as the years pass by?

Also, why do January children stay about the same across all stages? A small improvement but pretty minimal, when children at each end make significant movement? Is it because being January born is actually the month that the tests best “fit”?

I have a start of September and end of August child. The August pattern is actually reassuring. The September one makes me ask more questions!

TeenTimesTwo Wed 07-Aug-19 13:10:06

Zodle I think it is just about where the expected standard is set - at about something 58% achieve.

Initially the Sept borns are 'above' due to age and likewise August are 'below' due to age. But innate average ability isn't impacted by birth month, so as time goes on those advantages/disadvantages unwind.
(e.g. My Sept born was doing quite well in Reception by virtue of being the oldest, but actually she has some SEN which has meant that over time she has found her more natural position about 2/3rds down the year group).
So Sept children aren't 'doing worse' as time goes on, just their headstart due to age lessens in impact.

The big issue is though why we have a system that still hasn't evened things up 11 years later. If we can't be even by GCSEs, we are impacting full life chances, as GCSEs impact what A levels you can do, and also A levels, university.

Grasspigeons Wed 07-Aug-19 13:13:04

Its an anecdote but my august born boy really struggled to learn to read, nothing seemed to make sense and he had interventions. My autumn born child sailed through and was was seen as really bright. I then realised that age for age they had the exact same reading ability on the book bands. They got treated very differently and were percieved by their peers as 'clever' or 'bottom set' but actually there were pretty even.

joliejoleen Wed 07-Aug-19 13:30:50


In other countries, children don't start reception unil the age of 6. So that's one of the things other countries do better than England. At the age of 4 children are simply TOO young. They're sent to school and have to cope instead of thriving. My 4yo July born is very clever but I deferred him anyway and he won't start school until September 2020.
As a teacher myself, I wish more parents did it. Some of the most challenging behaviour I have dealt with at work has been from summerborn boys.

Arewedone Wed 07-Aug-19 14:41:35

We came from overseas and were given the choice of what age to start school. My Dd is September born and son August born. Dd entered school early at 3.9 months and son at 5. The school also had a policy at primary level of allowing children to repeat a year to a maximum of 2 years depending on age which allowed summer borns to reach their potential.
I maybe wrong but think Australians start at aged 6 which could be more advantageous when thinking about base literacy levels when starting school.

Helix1244 Wed 07-Aug-19 17:35:04

The fact they seem to get closer is a data red herring as gov set the nos who pass at each stage. They could make this chart look completely different if gcse pass rate was decided to be 90% so going down to getting 5% on the test.
The difference by age is sound.
For all reasons a pp says.
Behaviour of youngest make you think they are less capable.
Confidence. Even if they are very bright like pigeon said reading age compared to the class. Dc1 seemed less bright because there were sept borns doing well too. But was in fact maybe age 8 reading age at 5.0yo as opposed to 6/7yo at 5.9yo.
The youngest wouldnt 'test' well in yr r. Could be too busy playing etc.
I think many kids struggle with 1 subject and that becomes more likely if they are younger. Subjects impact each other. Once behind you have to make extra progress to overtake.
I dont see the eldest as being particularly able despite being 'top' or so at 7-8yo.
Dc1 was bright as a toddler could blend by 3.5yo learnt to read easily. But learning behaviours are not good. (Im sure they are not liked by teachers etc). Despite being probably top 5% for reading at ks1 what does that mean? Would they progress further by ks2 (unlikely). As the skills are not the same and because she was ahead starting school it's like a Sept born who will lose the advantage.
I think maths is taught wrong now for many kids and probably especially the youngest. 2 digits add/sub at 5.0yo but without using column add/sub can just be confusing.

Other countries allow them to start late. Many let them drop back a yr. Whereas our narrative is kids are less bright. Then you look at this data and realise that's rubbish.

Not adjusting the data or allowing retention etc means you are pushing the wrong kids.
And some bright ones lose confidence.
Worst of all using ks2 reaults to predict gcse and that is the target the secondary must hit. So if you havent caught up by 11yo it will be a struggle.
I dont doubt that the ones reading first etc are not necessarily the best readers.
Even minor things like losing friends in Scouts etc to the next group while being stuck with the youngest.
Earlier bedtimes.
Worse at sport
Later interest in levels of books/films etc
Friends with younger more disruptive kids, but who also have the same disadvantages and younger interests. Getting invited to fewer parties.
So many things add up and whilst you can overcome some (maybe your kid needs less sleep, is really tall, loves reading).
I think it is hard to see at 4yo if a kid is bright how important it is waiting till they are older to write, how hard getting a child to understand some maths that might be easy for them next yr is.

ProggyMat Wed 07-Aug-19 19:41:38

Fascinating thread(s)!
I'm wondering, as a parent of an autumnal DD, if other DP's of similar DC would have liked the opportunity for their DC to have been able to start their education an academic year earlier?

Helix1244 Wed 07-Aug-19 19:54:27

The same legislation which now allows you ask to delay till 5 also allows you ask to advance a sept.
However imo they would have to be exceptional to meet the criteria of 'in the best interests' because
You cant tell at 4.0 how bright they are
They would be smallest, slowest, tiredest. (Statistically)
It might affect sports (outside school they would play with yr below) though this may be an advantage
I guess though they could drop back a year without missing one.
They might lose i think .5 grade per gcse.

At private school there were 2 in my yr advanced, 1 repeated alevels, the other went to Cambridge.

SlowMoFuckingToes Wed 07-Aug-19 19:55:50

There's a reason the very competitive private schools take way more autumn born children. By child 2 most of our group of friends made sure they didn't have a summer baby.

FlumePlume Wed 07-Aug-19 20:04:26

SloMo Do you have a source for that? I’ve often heard it said that highly selective private schools take more autumn born kids, but I’ve never seen any evidence. I know that our local SS grammar age normalises the scores, to avoid exactly this issue.

OtraCosaMariposa Wed 07-Aug-19 20:05:30

Can you clarify what England does badly compared with other countries? How do other countries manage this better?

In Scotland things are far more flexible. For a start, our intake year runs 1st March to 28th February. The very youngest child starting P1 next week will have been 4 since the end of February at the latest. Many will have already turned 5 between March and August. I think starting school older is a good thing in general.

However the added benefit is that if your child's birthday is January or February then you have the automatic right to defer them. No questions asked. They then start school at 5 and a bit. This is very standard, it's not seen as "keeping them back" or anything negative, it's a very standard choice for younger children. It does mean that there can be a spread of 15 months between the oldest and youngest child in a class. But this system has been going decades, at least since I started school in the 70s. It's nothing new and it gives parents the CHOICE - if you want your child to go to school and think they're ready then they can go . But if you want your child to wait a year that's fine too. It's no big deal.

I don't understand why England is so inflexible. Would it really be so hard to introduce a similar system, allowing parents of children born in July or August just to wait a year?

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