A new guidebook for teachers says children’s test scores should be adjusted according to their age to tackle the disadvantage suffered by pupils born in the summer.

Adjust children’s test scores by age to tackle summer-born disadvantage, education experts urge

Children’s test scores should be adjusted according to their age to tackle the disadvantage suffered by pupils born in the summer, influential education experts say in a new guidebook for teachers.

People born between June and August do less well at school on average than their autumn-born classmates. They are more likely to have special educational needs, to have lower self-esteem, and fall into risky behaviour. The evidence also suggests summer-born pupils can be behind their older peers right through to their GCSEs.  

The new guidebook for teachers by Lee Elliot Major, Professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter, and Steve Higgins, Professor of Education at Durham University, says the “summer-born disadvantage” must be addressed to ensure equality in schools. It recommends teachers monitor the progress of the youngest pupils in their class in the same way as they do for other disadvantaged groups, and assess students in an age-adjusted way.

The academics recommend that teachers assess a child’s progress relative to others at their age, rather than older pupils in their class, in the tests set by schools. Expected levels of progress would apply to a particular age rather than a particular point in time.

Professor Elliot Major and Professor Higgins also say that headteachers should not allow parents to delay school entry for their children because this doesn’t stop the disadvantage faced by pupils who are younger.

The book, What Works? Research and Evidence for Successful Teaching (published on 3 October), shows teachers which education strategies are proven to help improve teaching and learning. It complements the influential Sutton Trust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit, which Professor Elliot Major and Professor Higgins worked on. “The question mark in the title is deliberate”, says Professor Higgins, “nothing works everywhere in education, but knowing what has worked for other teachers with other pupils can be very helpful in making professional decisions for your class”.

Professor Elliot Major said: “Analysis shows summer born pupils are behind their peers, and this continues throughout their time at school. There are far more autumn-born pupils in the top streams and the oldest pupils in the class are more likely to be selected for gifted and talented programmes.

“Teachers must consider maturity when grouping children into sets or classes according to their achievement, and when marking. We hope this will address this unequal situation, which effects so many classrooms and children across the country.”

Summer-born pupils are on average six months behind their older peers at age seven, three months behind at age 12, and still a month behind at age 16. Older children are also more likely to be selected for sports teams, possibly because they are bigger and better-coordinated.

What Works? says teachers should talk about the maturity of pupils when discussing their progress with parents. It also recommends teachers should adjust any academic or sporting selection to take into account the different ages and physical development of children.

The aim of the Sutton Trust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit is to help schools use the most effective learning and education strategies based on proven evidence. But seven years on Professor Elliot Major and Professor Higgins, who is also a visiting professor at the University of Exeter’s Graduate School of Education, say there are still “enduring myths that cling to the education system like barnacles on the bottom of a boat”. This includes the widespread belief that pupils have preferred learning styles, and that over-praising can boost confidence.

What Works? also reminds teachers that setting children according to their current performance makes little difference to learning outcomes; “learning pyramids” are “pure fiction”; digital technology boosts the motivation and engagement of boys and girls; poorly managed and supported teaching assistants have little impact on learning and reducing class sizes has a limited impact on pupils.

In the book Professor Higgins and Professor Elliot Major also warn the current high-stakes testing system is narrowing the school curriculum, distorting what is taught, and is undermining confidence in the end-of-year tests on which it rests.

The EEF toolkit is freely available at: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/evidence-summaries/teaching-learning-toolkit/

Date: 2 October 2019

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