Summer-born children more likely to struggle with basic skills, research suggests

Summer-born babies are more likely to struggle with basic skills [Photo: Getty]
Summer-born babies are more likely to struggle with basic skills [Photo: Getty]

More than a third of summer-born babies struggle with key skills including communication and basic maths and literacy by the age of five, new research suggests.

While you might not give much thought to the time of year your baby is born when you’re actually ‘in the conception moment’, various studies have revealed your child’s birthday could actually have an affect on their health and development throughout the course of their life.

The latest research suggests youngsters born in the summer months are less likely to be considered to have a “good level of development” in core areas compared to their autumn-born counterparts.

A “good level of development” means they were reaching the level expected of them in their communication and language skills, physical development, personal, social and emotional development, literacy and maths.

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The latest Department for Education (DfE) data shows that in 2019, 62% of children in England born between May and August had a "good level of development" based on teacher assessment at the end of Reception - the first year of school - meaning 38% did not reach this level.

In comparison, 81% of their classmates born between September and December had a good level of development - a 19 percentage point gap.

The statistics also show that 61% of summer-born children were achieving the expected level in all the early learning goals, compared with 79% of those born in the autumn (a gap of 18 percentage points).

There are 17 early learning goals in total, which come under seven different areas. Along with the five areas included in the "good level of achievement", the additional areas include understanding the world and expressive arts and design.

Early years experts suggested there is a “wealth of evidence” that a child's month of birth has an impact on academic grades and sporting achievements.

Commenting on the findings Michael Freeston, director of quality improvement, at the Early Years Alliance, said: “The attainment gap between summer-born children and their peers is very real. Beyond these statistics, there is a wealth of evidence that the month you were born can impact the grade you get and your sporting prowess.

“The reason these children struggle is simple enough. If you're just four years old when you start school, you could be up to 20% younger than your peers.

“That's 20% less life experience and 20% less time to develop physically and emotionally. Perhaps most crucially, it's a lot less time in early education - it makes it almost inevitable that a gap will develop.”

Pauline Hull, leader of the Summer Born campaign group, said: “The results of these tests are showing us what we know, and actually demonstrate that yes, if they have more time to physically and cognitively develop, then they would be better ready for school, and that is something no pre-school, no parent, no system can accelerate.

“It's very often a natural, physical, mental development that needs to just happen with time.”

In some countries parents of summer-born children can defer school entry for a year.

Parents in England of children born between April and August are able to request a delayed school start so children would begin in reception at five years old, rather than at four years old.

A Department for Education spokesman said it is “perfectly normal to see younger children performing less well in early years", adding that evidence shows these children make faster progress, with the gap narrowing as youngsters move up through primary school.

“We have given schools and councils clear advice on how to support parents who want to delay their child's admission to reception until age five, to ensure decisions are made in every child's best interests, and we remain committed to amending the School Admissions Code as soon as possible,” the spokesman added.

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New research has revealed summer-born children are struggling with development goals [Photo: Getty]
New research has revealed summer-born children are struggling with development goals [Photo: Getty]

The news comes as it was revealed last year that babies born in the summer could also be more likely to suffer from depression by the time they reach GCSE age.

Researchers found the youngest children in the academic school year are 30% more likely to develop mental health problems, such as depression.

The study also revealed those born in the last quartile of the academic year were 36% more at risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and 30% more likely to be diagnosed with an 'intellectual disability'.

That follows further research also from 2019 revealing that children born in the summer months are at a social handicap when they start school.

According to a study by the London School of Economics and Political Sciences (LSE), the youngest students in school year groups are less likely to have friends than their peers.

Summer-born children aren’t just thought to suffer socially.

Previous research has suggested that summer-born babies are at an academic disadvantage compared to their older peers.

There is also some evidence that autumn-born children, the oldest in their year, have a sporting advantage compared to the younger members of their class, according to a study by the Centre for Sports and Exercise Science at Essex University.

Additional reporting PA