The headteacher column with Steve Woodhouse

Steve Woodhouse, executive headteacher of the Wolds Federation
Steve Woodhouse, executive headteacher of the Wolds Federation

I didn’t ever expect to be giving pregnancy advice in my headteacher column; this certainly is a first!

However, after attending a meeting last week, I discovered some interesting statistics about when’s best, educationally, for a child to be born.

Children born in September and October perform better in SATs.

Children born in September and October perform better in SATs.

There’s always been a great deal of discussion about the impact an August birthday can have on a child’s school progress in comparison with his or her peers.

August-born pupils are nearly a full year younger than some of the children in their class; surely that must have an impact?

I attended the meeting at Bramall Lane in Sheffield, quite an impressive venue for a meeting about primary school data. I wanted to learn a little more about how well the children in my schools had achieved last summer, compared with children nationally.

Last year’s SATs for 11 year olds were the most difficult yet with a third of children failing to meet the new national standard.

The results take us back nineteen years in terms of how many children achieved the pass mark. I wasn’t surprised to learn that many children had ‘failed’. It was to be expected with such unrealistic tests.

What did surprise me was the information about children’s birthdays; the data was fascinating.

Nationally, a child born in September was around 63% likely to pass their end of Year six tests. As we moved from month to month, the likelihood decreased: the graph showed a steady decline right through to August. August-born children had a pass rate of just over 30% – incredible. This is the first time I have seen such compelling evidence. August-born boys were even less likely to pass, somewhere around 26%.

It strikes me as unfair that we continue to test children at the same time each year, even though some of them are a full year younger. They have had less time to develop and less time to mature; it really is making a difference. You may be reading this as a ‘summer born’, having had a very successful primary education; however, you are now clearly an exception. The data in this study comes from combining every 11-year-old child’s result from the 2016 tests, right across the country. We can’t ignore it.

Many researchers believe that primary school tests should be ‘age adjusted’ to prevent younger pupils in the year being penalised unfairly.

Summer-born children get consistently lower results at secondary school too, and are more likely to leave school earlier. Statistically they are also less likely to get into a high-performing university.

The findings from the Institute for Fiscal Studies add to the growing evidence that August children suffer educational disadvantage because they are less physically, socially and emotionally ready for school.

Rosie Dutton, a parent who was concerned about these effects, fought an 18-month battle with her local council in Staffordshire so that her daughter could start school one year later than usual.

Campaigners now predict a floodgate of similar cases.

Personally I believe that national tests should take account of children’s ages. There are many tests already in the school system that calculate a standardised score, adjusted depending on a child’s age in years and months. Will the Government ever consider it though? Who knows?

So, my advice to parents...

The data tells us that September and October are very good months in which to be born. If you track back nine months from then, and consider that January and February are usually very cold, you might just have an ideal plan.