London, February 21: Delaying school entry for children could lead to poorer academic performance, according to a new study.
Many parents are keen to hold their children back a year if they were born prematurely or in the summer months, researchers said.
The parents argue their child will not be mature enough to start school and previous research has suggested children who are born more than three weeks before their due date would benefit from starting school a year later than those who were born at full-term.
However, a new study published in the Journal of Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology contradicts these findings and claims starting school a year later does not lead to better academic performance for pre-term or full-term children and could in fact cause poorer academic performance as the children get older.
The paper has been authored by academics at the University of Warwick, Ruhr-University Bochum (Germany), Loughborough University, University of Oxford and the University of Leicester.
"Our study shows that delaying school entry has no effect on Year 1 teacher ratings of academic performance, but it is associated with poorer performance in age-standardised tests of reading, writing, mathematics and attention as the children get older," said corresponding author Professor Dieter Wolke, from the Department of Psychology and Warwick Medical School at the University of Warwick.
The research team used a natural experimental design to test their hypotheses as they could not carry out a randomised trial. "We obviously could not delay children starting school for the experiment, so we had to find a suitable study sample," Wolke said.
"We chose the Bavarian Longitudinal Study because Bavarian policy requires all children to be assessed by a community pediatrician three to 12 months before their school entry date to assess their readiness for school," Wolke added.
At the time of assessment in Bavaria, all children reaching six years of age before June 30 started school the following September. The team studied 999 children, of which 472 were born preterm.
The researchers compared teacher ratings of achievement in Year 1 and then looked at the results of standardised mathematics, reading, writing and attention tests when the children reached 8 years of age.
"Many parents demand that pre-term children should be held back, particularly if they were born in the summer. This is also supported by many charities supporting parents with preterm children," said co-author Julia Jaekel, from the Department of Developmental Psychology at the Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany.
"However, we found missing one year of learning opportunities was associated with poorer average performance in standardised tests at 8 years of age for both pre-term and full-term children," Jaekel said.