Assessment in the early years: summer-born children
The third in a series looking at assessment in the early years, this article considers some of the research around summer-born children and how we can ensure that we assess their learning accurately.
Generally characterised as children born in May-August, summer-born children can be up to almost one year younger than their classmates which, in the early years, represents a large proportion of children’s early life and learning. Summer-born children are usually identified as pupils to observe carefully due to lower levels of development. Certainly, data suggests that summer-born children do perform differently to their peers, for example:
- Summer-born children show lower levels of development across a range of measures at age five and are less likely to be judged as having a Good Level of Development [GLD] on the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile [EYFSP][i].
- Children born in August, particularly boys, are more likely to be identified as having Special Educational Needs and Disabilities [SEND][ii].
- Children born in August are also less likely to meet the expected standards for the phonics screening check in Year 1 (5/6 years), as well as the National Curriculum assessments at the end of Key Stage 1 (6/7 years)[iii].
- The impact of being summer-born is shown to reduce as children get older but is still visible in higher education, with children born in August less likely to go to university than their peers[iv].
These statistics suggest that in some scenarios it may be problematic to individually assess summer-born children against the same standard as their older peers, even though they are in the same academic year. In practice, some summer-born children may actually be working at a level beyond what is expected for their specific age (when compared to year-group expectations) and it is important that this is recognised in order to accurately assess their learning.
How can we support the assessment of summer-born children in the early years?
If we adjust children’s scores in a way which accounts for their age, we may find that summer-born children are showing a GLD for their age. Assessment tools vary in their purpose but for individual children, age-standardised scores or age-related norms can support practitioners in reliably incorporating age into their assessment judgements, allowing for a more valid evaluation of where to target support or extension activities[v].
For the EYFSP, teachers give a judgement of ‘emerging’ or ‘expected’ for each child across a range of Early Learning Goals [ELGs]: with only two categories to distinguish difference, these results should be interpreted with caution, particularly when assessing summer-born children as they are more likely to be judged as ‘emerging’. Whilst the EYFSP does not adjust for children’s different ages at the point of assessment, there are publications which give age-related guidance for development in the early years and may better support ongoing assessment and expectations[vi].
Considering age-related achievement is also important when communicating with children’s families and carers; a crucial aspect of assessing and supporting all children’s development in the early years. For summer-born children, practitioners can support appropriate expectations with regards to children’s age and stage of development and reduce any misplaced caregiver and pupil anxiety over lower levels of development.
In addition, focussing on progress rather than performance alone can support a more inclusive assessment environment generally; not just for summer-born children, but for all pupils who may not meet year-group expectations. Although a cohort assessment measure, the Reception Baseline Assessment [RBA] can support this. It provides a snapshot of children’s performance within the first few weeks of them starting Reception, and gives practitioners a narrative overview of each child’s performance from which to evaluate progress. Tracking progress is important for all children, not just those who are summer-born, to ensure that performance over the year is not masked by year-group expectations. For example, summer-born children may be making more-than expected progress which still appears below year-group expectations at different time-points, whereas older children may be making less-than expected progress which still appears to be in line with year-group expectations. As a result, learning support can be targeted appropriately.
Research suggests that practitioners are also less likely to judge summer-born children as having a GLD if they are in a class which is on average, older[vii]. As such, practitioners need to be aware of their summer-born children and the potential to compare them with their older peers. Internal moderation, professional development and age-standardised assessments can support practitioners in making fair, age-related judgements. It is important that practitioners do not simply lower expectations[viii]; instead, emphasising independence, physical development and leadership may be more beneficial for skill-development for summer-born children[ix]. Although beyond the scope of this article, this also extends to classroom organisation as research suggests that ability grouping, differentiated tasks and expectations may contribute to the differences we see in summer-born children’s achievement.
How has Covid-19 affected summer-born children in Reception 2020/2021?
There are some studies concerning the impact of Covid-19 on children in the early years; however, it is difficult to determine the relative impact for children born in the summer. One UK study, which looked at children who finished their Reception year in summer 2020, found that from spring 2020 (after the first lockdown) to autumn 2021, all children in Reception made less progress than would usually be expected. More worryingly, summer-born children made less progress than their older classmates. However, when these children finished Year 1 in summer 2021, summer-born children were shown to have made similar progress to their older classmates, possibly due to improvements in remote learning provision and higher attendance at school during the lockdown in spring 2021.
[i] Campbell, T. (2021). Relative age and the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile: How do birth month and peer group age composition determine attribution of a ‘Good Level of Development’—and what does this tell us about how ‘good’ the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile is? British Educational Research Journal. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1002/berj.3771
[ii] (PDF) Special Educational Needs and Disabilities within the English primary school system: What can disproportionalities by season of birth contribute to understanding processes behind attributions and (lack of) provisions? (researchgate.net) ; The relationship between month of birth, exclusions and identification of special educational needs - FFT Education Datalab
[vi] https://birthto5matters.org.uk ; https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1007446/6.7534_DfE_Development_Matters_Report_and_illustrations_web__2_.pdf
[vii] Relative age and the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile: How do birth month and peer group age composition determine attribution of a ‘Good Level of Development’—and what does this tell us about how ‘good’ the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile is? -