Happy Learners - Summer Born Effect

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Summer Born Children

(Children born at the end of the school academic year)

In the majority of education systems around the world children are grouped into cohorts of students born within an academic year. In most of the UK the academic year runs from the 1st of September to 31st August and so the children born in May, June, July and August are often known as Summer Born. In other countries the Summer Born Effect, or more correctly End of Academic Year Effect, is observed in different months depending on when their academic year ends. Educating children in year groups means that there can be 12 months difference between the oldest and youngest child in any cohort of children. Children start formal and compulsory schooling from the academic year in which they turn five. At school entry a difference of 12 months can be very significant.

Children mature and develop at different rates so age is certainly not the only factor that will account for the wide range of ability and skills in any one class. However, being born at the end of an academic year can definately be a disadvantage and this is particularly so for children who are developing more slowly. The table below shows how children born at the start, middle and end of the academic year compare chronologically and developmentally.



Comparison of birth month on relative developmental age.

Table 1

An August born child who was the perfect mean average (50th percentile) would have a chronological age and developmental age that were exactly the same, 4:0. They would nevertheless present as below the average of their year group 4:6. Even where an August born child is developmentally 6 months in advance of their age this would still take them up to fractionally above the class average, 4:7. If instead there is slower developmental progress than the mean average so that the child was 6 months behind their age the August born child would then have an age of 3:7. In contrast a slower developing September born child could still be above or equal to the average of the class.

Assuming no child is above or below the mean average by more than 6 months there is still a potential two year spread of development from a slightly advanced September born, 5:6, down to a slightly slower August born, 3:7. In practice many children will have developmental ages greater than 6 months difference from the mean average. What is considered average is itself very broad covering 68% of the population. Thus there is potential for a great spread of ability.

Developmentally advanced summer born children will generally overcome their chronological age disadvantages but there are quite often consequences for those summer born children who are average or delayed.



Difficulties experienced by summer born children:

Can be perceived as not as bright or clever as other children

Developmentally not ready to start compulsory formal schooling

Physically younger with implications initially for fine and gross motor skills, size, then later sport and to a certain extent sexual maturity

School examinations are usually based on the age of the cohort not individual ages thus advantageous to children born earlier in year

Self-esteem can be poor as they can appear to be lagging behind others

Missed opportunties - more mature pupils given special responsibilities or represent year group in sports and quiz teams, drama productions etc.

Less social confidence - social groups dominated by older pupils

Less happy in school

More likely to be diagnosed with a developmental condition

More likely to be diagnosed as having Special Educational Needs



The long term effects on summer born children

As children get older the differences between average development for autumn born and summer born children closes to become eventually neglible. Thus for most of the important milestones important in learning such as attention span; working memory; language acquistion etc the summer born children generally catch up during their primary schooling. However, evidence suggests that there can be a lasting legacy of of being summer born child. Summer born children continue to do less well in public examinations all the way into adulthood where they are under represented in professional sport, university education and higher paid jobs.


Right to defer your child

In the UK there is no statutory reason why children must be taught in their age group cohort. Parents have the right to request that there child starts school after turning 5 in Reception rather than Year 1. However, in practice this is not easy to achieve and would involve convincing your local authority and school of your case for your child being educated out of year. For those parents seeking schools in the independent sector the individual school can make the decision. There has been a lot of current debate by the current government about making it easier to defer your child if born in July or August. There may therefore be more up to date guidance available. In other countries, such as Denmark, there is a more flexible approach to deferring to next academic year.



Supporting summer born children

Probably the most important support that can be given to these children is to maintain and build their self-esteem and confidence. It is these attributes that tend to have life long lasting impact on these children.

Opportunities to work, collaborate and play with children born in the same academic term can be useful.

Parents need to resist attempts to compare their child to those born earlier in the academic year.

Schools needs to ensure equality of opportunity for children across the academic year. They should also avoid tests and examinations that do not use the exact chronological age for norm referencing.


You may also be interested in the following pages:

Introduction to Behaviour

Receptive Language Milestones

Reward Systems