The purpose of this critical evaluation is to evaluate the news article in relation to the research paper published by Norbury et al. (2016) as well as empirical literature concerning relative age effects in academic attainment. By taking into account the information covered in the article, the original piece of research on which the media article was based, and broader literature an assessment of the media piece will be provided. A summary of the original research will be provided, then an appraisal of the article, to determine how appropriate the research was covered in the article.
Previous research on language difficulties in children focuses on the effect of language difficulties on later psychopathy (Petersen et al., 2013; Yew & O’Kearney, 2012) as well as its impact on behavioural issues. At age 4, an increased co-occurrence of language and behavioural difficulties were observed (Bretherton et al., 2014). Children who start school may not be able to behave and interact appropriately. Other studies demonstrate differences in children’s writing ability with a 22-percentage point difference between higher performing autumn born children and lower performing summer born children in the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) study (Cotzias & Whitehorn, 2013).
Consequentially, The Department for Education in England is reviewing admissions policies to enable youngest children to start reception a year later than their oldest peers, in a practice called ‘red-shirting’ (Bedard & Dhuey, 2006) so they can develop language skills sufficient for curriculum demands, however, deferral may have no effect on skills. Another response suggested was applying an age adjustment to national test scores, but additional policy responses may be required (Crawford et al., 2014).
However, most investigations concerning language and behaviour difficulties focus on clinically referred groups susceptible to Berkson’s bias (where those with co-occurring deficits are more likely to attract clinical attention are selected) this may have caused an overestimated association of language and behavioural difficulties in the general population.
Norbury et al. (2016) sought to shift the focus to whether relative age effects reflect a mismatch between the developmental competencies of young children at school entry, and the developmental demands of the school curriculum. Their study explored whether educational disadvantages in younger children are indicative of a mismatch between language competence at school entry and academic demands of the classroom. Focus was placed on language skills, as previous research indicated language skills at school entry are highly predictive of academic attainment at the end of formal education (Tomblin, 2008).
They investigated whether relative age effects extend to teacher-reported language abilities, after accounting for other factors associated with language deficits, such as sex. They also investigated whether being younger was associated with co-occurring language and behaviour difficulties, and whether these caused poorer academic achievement. Their final question was whether age accounted for variance in academic attainment once perceived language competence (and other demographic variables) are taken into account.
Their sample consisted of 7,267 children aged 4 years 9 months to 5 years 10 months attending state-maintained reception in Surrey, England. This is a large sample. The variables measured at the end of reception were teacher ratings on the Children’s Communication Checklist-Short (CCC-S), a measure of language competence, the Strengths and Dif?culties Questionnaire-Total Dif?culties Score (SDQ), a measure of behavioral problems, and the Early Years Foundation Stage Pro?le (EYFSP), a measure of academic attainment.
Consistent with previous research (Cotzias & Whitehorn, 2013) the study found younger children were rated as having more language deficits, behavioural problems, and poorer academic progress. Language deficits were highly associated with behavioral problems. Only 4.8% of children with language deficits and 1.3% of those with co-occurring language and behaviour difficulties obtained ‘Good Level of Development’ on the EYFSP. While age predicted variance in academic attainment (1%), language competence was largely associated with academic achievement (19%). Younger children had immature language and behaviour skills so were not ready to meet academic and social demands of the classroom. Interestingly, an optimal age for a child should start school is not suggested.
The news article claims summer born children are in danger of being left behind unless the curriculum takes their needs into account. It summarizes the research by Norbury et al. (2016) and suggests potential policy changes. It correctly states that the research found youngest children in reception were more likely to have both language and behavioural difficulties. It states younger children were twice as likely to have both language difficulties and behavioural problems, this is the case for language difficulties but is a bit exaggerated for behavioural problems. Although, older children were twice as likely to achieve a ‘good level of development’ on 12 key curriculum targets on the EYFSP.
The news article also correctly states that the sample was over 7,000 children from schools in Surrey and that researchers found developing oral language skills or ensuring academic targets reflect developmental capacity could reduce numbers of children requiring specialist clinical services in later years. Furthermore, it appropriately states the source of the paper and main researcher, however, does not provide a link to the original study. The article gives little detail of the study’s methodology and assessment methods for language difficulties and behavioural problems. It also fails to highlight limitations of the study such as that the relationship between language and behaviour difficulties might be inflated by the tendency of teachers to notice more readily those children who are disruptive in the classroom.
To conclude, after taking the presented information into consideration, overall the news article seems to capture the main findings and potential interventions well from both the Norbury et al. (2016) paper and further literature, such as the suggestion of applying an age adjustment to test scores (Crawford et al., 2014). It also briefly touches on the fact that inadequate language to meet demands of the classroom may increase behavioural problems, as mentioned in the Norbury et al. (2016) paper. The article accurately reports findings such as the number of participants but could provide the exact number of participants and a link to the paper.
Adams, R. (2018). ‘Summer-born children in danger of being left behind, says school study’. The Guardian Online. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/jun/04/summer-born-children-left-behind-in-the-classroom-says-study
Bedard, K. ; Dhuey, E. (2006). The Persistence of Early Childhood Maturity: International Evidence of Long-Run Age Effects. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 121(4), pp.1437-1472. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Elizabeth_Dhuey/publication/24091957_The_Persistence_of_Early_Childhood_Maturity_International_Evidence_of_Long-Run_Age_Effects/links/00b4952a8908555d1d000000/The-Persistence-of-Early-Childhood-Maturity-International-Evidence-of-Long-Run-Age-Effects.pdf
Bretherton, L., Prior, M., Bavin, E., Cini, E., Eadie, P., ; Reilly, S. (2014). Developing relationships between language and behaviour in preschool children from the Early Language in Victoria Study: Implications for intervention. Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, 19, 7–27.
Cotzias, M., ; Whitehorn, T. (2013). Topic note: Results of the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) pilot. Research Report. London: Department for Education. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/190639/DFE-RR291.pdf
Crawford, C., Dearden, L.,