Summertime, when the learning ain't easy.
When my daughter moved to a new school last year, we had expected her to go into Year 8, having just completed Year 7. But in light of her late August birthdate, and the social and emotional challenges of moving schools (especially in this case, which involved adapting to weekly boarding), the headteacher suggested we consider letting her join their Year 7. At first, I was taken aback, since M had never struggled at school and her grades had always been in the top range. But after swallowing my defensive attitude, I listened to what the Head had to say about summer-born children, and realised there could be an argument for taking the route she suggested.
Given our September-July school calendar in the UK, summer babies naturally face a greater challenge than their Autumn-born class mates - something known as 'the birth-date effect'. From primary school through to GCSEs, analysis has shown that children born in June, July and August perform less successfully across all subjects (including sports), and this gap is still measurable through A-levels and university admissions. Indeed, a BBC News report found that "the chance of going to Oxford or Cambridge was 30% higher for someone born in the autumn rather than July." So disadvantaged are summer-born babies, that in 2013 the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggested they are awarded extra exam marks. Interestingly, children who are most successful in school athletics, and most frequently picked for school teams, tend to have September-March birthdays, and are usually taller, stronger and more physically mature than summer-borns in the same academic year.
In our case, M was going into a brand new environment, where she didn't know another soul, and would be spending the week away from home. If she could 'relax' academically for a term, it would be one less thing for her to worry about as she settled in to her new school. Though tall for her age, she still has the figure of an 11-12 year old, and a childish innocence that many tweenagers have already shaken off. In addition, her new school was run quite differently to her previous day school, so it was unlikely she would repeat topics she'd previously covered. When the headteacher told us that if summer-born children are put into a class that switched them from youngest to eldest, it had been shown to make the difference of a whole grade at GCSEs, I was sold.
So, one year on, did I make the right choice?
Well, having just received M's school report, I am glowing with relief and pride in how comfortably she has settled in, and how well she is doing academically. Although there was potential for her to coast, she seems to have strived for excellence, tackling extension exercises if she completes her homework with time to spare. She has also thrown herself into drama productions (taking on a lead role at the last minute, when an older girl fell sick), music concerts - classical and rock - charity fairs and school trips. Teachers' comments like "she is an asset to the school and a credit to her family" made me almost weep, when I remember the lukewarm platitudes she received in previous school reports.
What has been particularly interesting though is seeing the effect that being the eldest in the year has had on the character of my formerly quiet, reticent daughter. Ever since starting school one week after her fourth birthday, she had tended to look up to her peers, keep quiet in group discussions, hold back in activities, and never volunteer answers in class (despite almost always knowing the correct answer). Being slight and skinny, she was also never picked for sports teams so had come to believe she was "not a sporty person". This year, being one of the eldest in class, M has grown into a confident, caring, leader-of-the-pack, who teachers tell me is the first to suggest ideas to her peers for creative projects or after-school fun and games. She also now regularly plays in netball matches (a first!), and won medals for high jump and long jump at the recent Sports Day.
I began to see for myself how being the oldest in a school year bestows certain qualities on a child, or perhaps allows different aspects of their personality to shine through. As the youngest in her year, M practised being quiet and invisible. As the eldest, she has begun to flex her leadership qualities, and I think is finding that she is surprisingly capable at entertaining, as well as caring for, her peer group. It's been a fascinating experience, and I'm so glad we were guided in this direction by a knowledgable, sensitive headteacher. I just wish I'd done it sooner.
Last updated 17:47 on 11 August 2018