Poor attainment of summer-born pupils limits their options for higher education, study suggests

10 May 2013

August-born pupils achieve worse exam results, on average, than children born in September, simply because they are 11 months younger when they sit national achievement tests, a new study finds.

Researchers at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) analysed data from the Millennium Cohort Study, the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, the Labour Force Survey, the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England, the National Pupil Database, and Understanding Society. They found that the age that children sit national tests matters most to their results, and are urging policymakers to adjust younger pupils’ scores.

The IFS study confirmed findings from previous research that show summer-born pupils are less likely than their autumn-born peers to achieve five good GCSEs or go to university. They are also more likely to be diagnosed with special educational needs at age 11, and to engage in risky behaviour at younger ages.

The studies’ authors explained that these differences in attainment between children born at the start and end of the academic year could affect the post-compulsory education options open to them. Lorraine Dearden, Professor of Economics and Social Statistics at the Institute of Education and co-author of the report, explained that “by re-grading and setting the boundary a bit lower, we are saying these younger children are on the right trajectory, they will catch up eventually.”

However, the researchers found little evidence to suggest that the disadvantage these children experience in childhood persists as they become adults. They found that being summer-born did not affect people’s wages, likelihood of being in work, health or happiness.

Read the full report

When you are born matters: Evidence for England, by Claire Crawford, Lorraine Dearden and Ellen Greaves.

Press coverage

BBC: ‘Summer-born pupils “should have exam scores boosted”

Guardian: ‘Autumn-born teenagers should be set higher GCSE pass marks, says report

Metro: ‘Summer-born pupils “should be given extra exam marks”