Happy Birthday to you – but not if you’re born in summer

10 February 2009

Cambridge Assessment today submitted evidence to Sir Jim Rose for his consideration following the publication of his interim report on the Primary Curriculum Review which reveals a new take on birthdate research.

Cambridge Assessment’s extensive literature review is intended to advance the understanding of the extent and causes of the birthdate effect in the English education system. Although it focuses on understanding the birthdate effect in England, it uses international comparisons as one means of throwing light on key factors.

Firstly, that the birthdate effect persists throughout education and training. Secondly, that a strong selection effect may be in operation at all stages – that is, summer-borns are not progressing onto certain routes and into certain levels of education. This effect is not obvious from individual studies limited to specific phases of education. It explains why the summer-borns who get through to the highest level of education are doing well: it’s vital to recognise that disproportionately fewer summer-borns actually get to this level at all.

Our submission letter and literature review, 'Birthdate effects: a review of literature from 1990 onwards', can be found below. 

Tim Oates, Group Director of Assessment Research and Development at Cambridge Assessment, said: "Although we believe that the existing research is illuminating in respect of the extent of the birthdate effect and of its causes, we do not advance recommendations in respect of remedies. We believe that work on remedies is not yet sufficiently advanced; substantial, urgent work is required on the means of devising adequate approaches. From this review, and from the work of comprehensive reviews of the quality of primary and early years education, it is likely that adequate remedy will lie in not only development of a strategy regarding when formal schooling should start, but also – at least – in respect of: specific balance in respect of curriculum elements devoted to cognitive, emotional and social development; the training requirements of teaching and support staff; curriculum frameworks; inspection foci; pupil grouping strategy; management of differentiation; and the articulation between early years units and compulsory schooling.

"In respect of the birthdate effect the weight of evidence suggests that it is indeed a serious issue. We hope that this review is a key contribution to understanding. However, possible remedies need equally expansive examination – leaping into inadequately-researched responses could exacerbate rather than remedy this problem within our system."

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