Too late by five: the challenge facing educators

Summer born pupils have a lower outcome score on the early learning goals according to new DfE statistics released last week. Boys also do less well than girls and pupils on free school meals less well than other pupils. Pupils from some ethnic groups performed less well than others and the largest attainment gaps was between pupils with special needs already identified at that age and those with no identified special needs. The evidence can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/eyfsp-attainment-by-pupil-characteristics-2013

Many years ago I worked with a sociologist who was of the view that boys did better at nursery school because they were more demanding. They may still be both more demanding and boisterous, but they don’t do better according to this data. According to the DfE, 49% of all pupils achieve at least the expected level in all early learning goals, but that masks the gap between girls achieving 58% as a group, and boys at 41%. The widest gaps between boys and girls are in writing and exploring and using media where the gap is 16% point. The narrowest gap is in technology, at just one percentage point in favour of girls. In reading the gap is 11 percentage points.

The data are interesting on the term in which a pupil was born.  Some 60% of autumn born children achieved at least the expected level in all early learning goals. This compared with just 38% of summer born children.   Resolving this issue is essential if summer born children are not to be left behind throughout their schooling. How it can be resolved is a matter of judgement. In the first instance it might be interesting to see the outcome of these goals if administered after the same degree of exposure to schooling by children born at different times of year. If a middle class child girl in the autumn significantly outperforms boys on free school meals born in the summer then there is clearly a quality assurance issue that cannot be resolved by holding back the children that perform better. This is especially an issue in school-based activities, since the difference in attainment in writing is a 22% gap, and in numbers the attainment gap between autumn and summer born children overall was 20%. If these figures become widely known they might have an impact on maternity services if families chose to have more autumn born babies and less summer born children.

Perhaps not surprisingly, children where English was not their first language performed less well than native speakers of English, with the widest attainment gap being in speaking at 19% points, and the narrowest in moving and handling where it was just 2%, perhaps because this requires little language knowledge, except presumably to understand the task.

There is much debate about testing children too early in life, but some form of teacher assessment as a baseline seems a sensible approach if we are ever to make progress at removing the inequalities between different groups in society. These figures show the depth of inequality that is already in place by the time children enter formal schooling.

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