Older children get a headstart at school, study finds

The study found younger kids were at a disadvantage.

A study out of Western Australia has found the age of your child has a significant impact on their NAPLAN results.

The Curtin University study found older children in the classroom outperformed their younger classmates.

The research, published in The Australian Educational Researcher, reviewed the performance of more than 80,000 Western Australian government school students in Years three, five, seven and nine who sat the NAPLAN numeracy, spelling, reading, or punctuation and grammar tests in 2017.

In WA children start school at the beginning of a calendar year, if they are turning five by 30 June of that year.

The research found the older children in the class, born in July, performed significantly better than the youngest, born the following June.

Research co-author Associate Professor Rachael Moorin, from the School of Public Health at Curtin, said the pattern was the same in all years but was most noticeable in Year 3.

“We found the relative position of your birthday to the school cut-off date, can affect how well you do at school so there is evidence of an academic benefit for children at the older end of their cohort,” Associate Professor Rachael Moorin said.

“This could be because the older children are more mature and relatively more confident than their peers in the same grade.”

Interestingly, in another study conducted by the university in 2013, it was found that the youngest children in a school-year were more likely to be diagnosed with and ‘medicated’ for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Lead author Dr Martin Whitely, Research Fellow at JCIPP Whitely, and a former teacher said it was normal for the younger children in a class to be a little bit behind their older peers academically and in terms of behaviour.

“It doesn’t matter where you put the cut-off date, or how much flexibility you give parents in deciding if their child is ready for school; some kids are always going to be the youngest in the class,” Dr Whitely said.

“We need to recognise the difference that being less mature makes and not be alarmed if they are a little behind academically, or worse still treat immature behaviour like it is a medical condition.”