ExamsChildren who display hyperactivity or behavioural problems at the age of three risk poor academic performance in adolescence, a new report published in the British Journal of Psychiatry has claimed.

The study looked at 640 women and their children who were part of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), or the ‘Children of the 90s’ study. Parents were asked to complete a questionnaire on their child’s behaviour at 47 months (just before their fourth birthday), to assess whether the children displayed signs of hyperactivity, inattention or behavioural problems. The researchers then looked at the GCSE results achieved by the children.

After adjusting for variables, such as IQ and the level of the parents’ education, the scientists found that boys who displayed high levels of behavioural problems and hyperactivity at 47 months were 33 per cent more likely to not achieve a minimum level of five good GCSEs (grades A* - C). Additionally, boys with hyperactivity or attention problems scored 10 fewer points (or 1.67 GCSE grades) than average, while boys with behavioural problems scored 15 fewer points (or 2.5 GCSE grades) than average.

Girls with hyperactivity or attention issues at 47 months scored nine fewer points (equivalent to 1.5 GCSE grades) lower than the average while those with behavioural problems at 47 months scored 12 fewer points (or 2 GCSE grades) than the average.

Dr Kapil Sayal, one of the lead researchers and Reader in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Nottingham, said: “Our study shows that behavioural problems present at the age of 3 years have an impact on academic attainment at the age of 16 years. Our findings raise questions about early identification of children with hyperactivity and attention problems. Although there is little evidence that routine screening for ADHD-type problems in the early school years is effective, teachers are well placed to identify young children with high levels of behavioural problems. Teachers should be encouraged to enhance their awareness of the long-term implications of early behavioural difficulties, and to take parental concerns about behaviour problems seriously.

“Health professionals should also inform the parents and teachers of young children with high levels of hyperactivity/inattention and conduct problems about the long-term academic risks, so that help can be offered at school. Early academic support for children with these problems may help reduce the long-term risk of poorer academic outcomes.”

The study was carried out by researchers at the University of Nottingham and University of Bristol, and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and their findings will appear in the new issue of the British Journal of Psychology.