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Children's different rates of progress in their years at school are mainly driven by their parents' social class, according to a new UK-wide study.
Analysis of more than 11,000 seven-year-olds found a noticeable performance gap between the children of parents in professional and managerial jobs and those with parents who were long-term unemployed.
Even after allowing for other factors such as ethnicity and family size, the children of professionals and managers were, on average, at least eight months ahead of pupils from the most socially disadvantaged backgrounds at age 7. This gap was about four months wider at 7 than it had been at age 5.
The new report by researchers at the Institute of Education, University of London, also reveals that parents' social class, recorded when their child was aged 3, has a bigger influence on progress between 5 and 7 than a range of parenting practices, such as daily reading with a child.
The children involved in this research were born in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland between 2000 and 2002 and are being tracked by the Millennium Cohort Study.
Dr Sullivan and her colleagues produced a cognitive score for each child based on performance in reading, maths and pattern construction. They also analysed teachers' assessments of the children at age 7. Teachers rated the children's abilities in speaking and listening, reading, writing, science, maths and numeracy, physical education, ICT, and expressive and creative arts.
Youngsters with low birth weights and those with parents who were long-term unemployed or in semi-routine and routine jobs made least progress. However, there was a marked improvement in the cognitive scores and teacher ratings of children from Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi families between the ages of 5 and 7.
The study also found that social class had an even greater bearing on children's progress than parents' qualifications.
The Millennium Cohort Study has been tracking children in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland through their early childhood and plans to follow them into adulthood. It covers such diverse topics as parenting; childcare; school choice; child behaviour and cognitive development; child and parental health; parents' employment and education; income; housing; and neighbourhood. In the Millennium Cohort Study, families considered to be in poverty are estimated to be living on less than 60 per cent of the average national household income. The poverty line calculation takes into account the number of people in a household.
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