International Thematic Probe: The influence of relative age on learner attainment and development

Caroline Sharp, Sharon O'Donnell, Nalia George, Claire Sargent, Maureen Heron

01 February 2009

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QCA commissioned the NFER to undertake a review of recent international research and policy on the issue of relative age.

Key Findings

  • Pupils who are younger in the year group (known as ‘summer borns’ in the UK) do less well in attainment tests, are more frequently identified as having special educational needs and are more frequently referred to psychiatric services.
  • Effects for attainment are quite large when children start school, but get progressively smaller as children get older. There is limited direct evidence to support the effectiveness of particular educational policies and practices in reducing relative age effects, apart from age-adjusted tests.
  • The strategies identified as most likely to help reduce relative age effects are: to use age standardised tests, ensure that relatively younger pupils have an appropriate curriculum and improve teachers’ awareness of the issue. The review does not recommend deferring entry to school for a year for the youngest children or requiring children to repeat a year (as happens in other countries).
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