23 Aug 2019

The Summer Born Effect: Are Summer Born Babies At A Disadvantage In School?

  • By Connor Whelan  | 
  • 23 Aug 2019  | 
  • 9 min read
  •  |  Free download

With the internet full of reports and articles about how the summer born effect can negatively influence attainment levels in children, we are taking a look at the impact being born in the summer months can have on your child and what you can do to lessen it. 

What is the Summer-Born Effect?

In UK schools, where academic years start in September, “summer born” refers to children born between April and August. 

It is not the fact that they are born in the summer which is important, but the difference in age between themselves and their classmates. 

Due to differing term dates around the world this is also often referred to as the “birthdate effect” and is a way to categorise the children it impacts upon.

Further reading:

It may seem obvious that children age 4 might be developmentally different to children age 5, but the summer-born phenomenon (where students achieved lower results than their non-summer-born peers) continues throughout primary school, although the gap decreases as they get older. 

Summer-born children are often compared to their non-summer-born peers through assessments made in school, and this is where differences in attainment can begin to appear.

Maths At Home eBook + Bonus Maths Pack

Download our FREE Maths At Home eBook and kick-start better home learning for your child. It’s packed with top tips for parents and 11 fun real-world maths questions for your child to complete at home!

Does being summer-born really make a difference?

As well as the summer-born element, students will be compared in a variety of categories as this helps a school to target interventions (and teaching) to help close the gap between different groups of children.

These groups may include:

  • Male/female, 
  • SEN/non-SEN (Special Educational Needs), 
  • EAL/non-EAL (English as an Additional Language), 
  • FSM/non-FSM (Free School Meals) 
  • and so on. 

These are quite blunt categories and with many of them the line may be arbitrary – an April-born child is not likely to be vastly different to a March-born child, for example – but these categories help to track and target groups which are known to be vulnerable i.e. often attain results lower than their peers.

The Summer Born Effect Is Different In Different Children!

It is important to remember that all children are different!

However, it is worth bearing in mind that one child may be present in a variety of these vulnerable groups. So a child who is summer-born may also receive Free School Meals and have a Special Educational Need. 

If they are not achieving in line with peers any one of those factors, or all of them, or indeed none of them, may be the reason, but it is worth remembering that teachers will always delve deeper and work with the child and parents to ensure they reach their full potential.

It is worth considering, however, the trends associated with the groups overall as this gives us indicators of ways we can help not just the whole group but the individuals in it – whether from a parent perspective or a teacher one.

At what age do children start school?

Legally pupils do not need to attend full time schooling until the term after their fifth birthday, but in reality most pupils will join a Reception class when aged 4. 

Some of those pupils, with September birthdays, will turn 5 very soon after they start school, but those born in August won’t turn 5 until after their Reception year.

Children are different, but they share some school based similarities

From birth we know that children change and mature rapidly, although each may reach milestones at differing points. 

One child may walk at 10 months old whereas another may be 18 months old before taking a single step. Both are within a “normal range” and no doctor would worry about an early or later walker if they felt there were no physical reasons for the difference.

Although by age 4 many of the key milestones of early childhood are past – walking, talking, toilet training and so on, children are still developing at slightly different rates and time frames, and this can be amplified in the first year of school. 

This is because this is often the first time in which you might compare 30 children against each other on a regular basis.

But what does this mean for summer born children?

There have been a number of studies comparing summer born children and their peers, and this one on maths tests taken at the end of the Reception year shows: 

Summer Born Effect Has An Impact

As the children go through the school this gap lessens, but is still evident in Year 6 tests where:

Summer-born children score an average of 3.6 points lower in maths than their peers.

Can I defer my child’s start in Reception class to help?

If your child’s birthday is between 1st April and 31st August, you can request that they do not start school until the September after they turn 5. 

This usually means, however, that they skip Reception class altogether and join school in Year 1.

Missing a year of school can leave gaps in your child’s skills

The concern created by missing a year of learning is that your child will have missed a year of settling in with the more relaxed learning atmosphere of Reception. 

This involves a lot of learning through play and a strong Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) curriculum focus on social, emotional, and physical development alongside the more traditional academic subjects. 

These areas of the EYFS curriculum are considered vital to help every child become a balanced learner and to be successful at school. 

There is also a more obvious lack of social interaction opportunities if children do not join school until Year 1, when the majority of their classmates have already had one year together. 

Schools are not usually well resourced to have a big influx of children in Year 1 who have missed Reception, and as a result they would also find it tricky to do the catch up work required for each child.

However, you can request through your local education authority to delay your summer-born child’s start until they turn five and start them in Reception. 

This will only be granted if they feel there is sufficient evidence to show that this would be in your child’s best interests. 

Children who were summer-born and premature, for example, would be likely to be granted this if there was evidence of delays in their physical and/or emotional development.

How Matr’s one-to-one tuition can help close the attainment gap for summer born children 

Through no fault of their own, children born in the summer months can often fall behind their classmates purely due to the fact that they were born later in the year. Fortunately, there are things that you can do to help them close the attainment gap, and one-to-one maths tuition is one of them.

Here at Matr, our online, one-to-one maths tuition is designed to give your child the chance to work through their very own personalised learning journey in a fun, engaging and supportive environment. So, to find out how Matr can help your child, find the right programme for your child’s needs and begin their journey to becoming more confident in maths!

So is it worthwhile to defer entry?

From an academic perspective it is worth bearing in mind that a study of children who did defer their year of entry did not appear to gain what many would consider to be a worthwhile advantage in their Year 1 phonics test, achieving an average of only 0.7 marks higher than other summer-children who did not defer entry. 

This study does not take into account any impact the deferred year may have had on a child’s emotional development and there is little research into that aspect of development at this stage.

You will always know your child and situation best and can decide whether applying for deferred entry – either until Year 1 or to join Reception out of year group – would be right for your child. 

The Local Authority will then make the final decision, taking all evidence and information into account. 

In a study of applications to defer entry made in 2016-2017, 75% of requests were successful so it is worth a try if you feel it would be right. 

It is important that you then consider how best to maximise that extra year with work you can do from home or a nursery can do with your child so that they get the best possible start when they do join their class.

Maths At Home eBook + Bonus Maths Pack

Download our FREE Maths At Home eBook and kick-start better home learning for your child. It’s packed with top tips for parents and 11 fun real-world maths questions for your child to complete at home!

Does the summer-born effect decrease over time?

Although the size of the achievement gap decreases over time it still is evident even at age 16.

Summer born effect in secondary school

Although data is harder to gather and compare after students leave school settings, it would follow that there are summer-born children who do not catch up with their autumn-born peers even into adulthood.

Different countries, different seasons, same problem

Although in the UK it is a summer-born effect, this attainment gap is mirrored in countries and cultures across the world, although the school terms effect whether it is a summer-born effect or based on another term. 

There have been calls by some professionals asking for testing to take month of birth into account – certainly for younger children – but there is little evidence that it would make enough impact to negate the impact of being placed in classes which include children up to a year older than them. 

This unfortunately means there is no easy fix currently given the way our education system, and curriculum, is organised, but there are things you can do. 

How can I combat the summer-born effect in maths?

A study has shown that summer-born children who are given extra support and maths input in small groups or via 1:1 tuition have made big gains in maths and gone on to not only catch up with, but also overtake, their non-summer-born peers. 

Just half an hour of extra one-to-one support per day has a big impact. 

Whether you hire an outside tutoring agency for this or use books and resources from home, it is clear that summer-born children can gain huge advantages if they spend a small amount of extra time and effort to close the gaps on their peers. 

Schools can, and often already will have interventions available for students who need extra support but with so many pupils to work with your child may not get the 1:1 help they need.

So, to ensure the biggest impact possible is made, it is worth considering investing in some one-to-one tutoring for your child to make sure that the attainment gap does not grow. 

What can we, as parents, do to support our summer-born child in maths?

As mentioned earlier, whilst it is not an easy fix, there are a number of things you can do to support your summer born child in maths. 

Before your child starts school:

  • The earlier the better in terms of starting children talking about maths – starting with aspects such as size – big car, small car; long table, short table; and so on will help to introduce your child to the topics that they will be learning later in school.
  • Encourage counting with your toddler – when tidying up, count the toys back into the box to help them associate numbers with objects
  • CBeebies, the TV channel, have great shows for pre-schoolers such as Numberblocks which help to teach early counting and number bonds. They also have some apps to support your child which you can play together on a phone or tablet. Obviously be mindful of screen time amounts but this can be a great educational use of technology.

When starting school:

  • When applying for school make a decision on whether you want to defer entry. Carefully consider what outcome and benefits you would like to achieve with this deferral, because for the reasons we discussed above, it may not be the right move just because your child is younger than their peers. 
  • Speak to the class teacher during the settle-in sessions if you have any concerns over child’s development or readiness for school. They will be able to reassure you regarding any provisions they have available and also make notes to help them plan for your child’s first days and weeks of school.
  • When looking for schools think ask about what provision they have for interventions for pupils who may be falling behind their peers, for any reason, and what they would like your child to be able to do by the time they start school.

During schooling:

Remember, don’t worry if your child is summer born!

Whilst the information above may paint a relatively bleak picture for summer born children, it is important to remember that there are a number of things you can do as a parents to help close any potential attainment gaps that may appear. 

With the right help, whether that comes in the form of one-to-one tutoring, extra maths help at home or even through a more consistent line of communication with your child’s teacher, the summer born effect should not be much of an issue in your household! 

When everything is stripped back, maths, and all other school subjects simply require a lot of practice, and this is something that is the same for children the world over regardless of which point in the year they were born!

Related articles:

How to help your child with maths at home

9 tips for teaching your child about money

How to help your child learn times tables at home