Children born in the summer tend to do less well academically and are also inclined to be less confident, more frequently diagnosed with special educational needs and more likely to be bullied according to a new study.
Researchers from the Institute of Education at London University put much of the disparity down to children being placed in to ability streams from as young as seven.
Having looked at the educational outcomes of 5,000 children in the Millenium Cohort study, the researchers found that by the age of seven, just over 70% of the children born in September were in a top stream, compared with fewer than 30% of those born in August. About 30% of August-born children were in the bottom stream, compared with about 10% of September-born youngsters.
Study author Tammy Campbell said: "If teachers place younger pupils early in their school career in lower ability groupings, and older pupils in higher groupings, this hasty (and potentially premature) sorting may have a significant impact on subsequent differences in educational attainment."
She also suggested that grouping by ability had a bad effect on children in the lowest groups in wider areas than just their learning.
"Previous research has shown that pupils in the lowest groups are likely to be less confident, and occassionally bullied on acocunt of their ability. Streaming can clearly have an affect on behaviour of both pupils and teachers and as such children might get fewer opportunities and be de-motivated," added Ms Campbell.
The arguments for grouping, streaming and setting are that children will learn more and be more interested if lessons are pitched at the right level for them and that they will be bored and possibly disruptive if they are not. Academics also say it is easier to teach children if they are of a similar ability.
Grouping children by ability within a class or a year is common, even early on in primary schools.
The study found that 97% of the children in the study were grouped by ability by the time they were seven - within their year, class, or both. About a third were grouped within their year for English or maths and nearly 80% were grouped within their class for all or most lessons.
A report from the Institute for Education last year found similar levels of streaming at age seven in England, Wales and Scotland but that schools in Northern Ireland were less likely to do this.
Posted 08/03/2013 by firstname.lastname@example.org