Students Staff

28 April 2014

Groundbreaking studies provide new insights into children’s achievements and aspirations

Graduates at Essex

Two Essex studies provided insights into educational and career aspirations and achievements.

Two Essex studies providing new insights into children’s achievements and aspirations have attracted widespread publicity in national and international media.

Carried out by researchers at the Institute for Social and Economic Research, both studies tracked outcomes for large groups of youngsters.

One ground-breaking study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, looked at the lifelong impact of the grammar school system on borderline 11-plus passers.

It found grammar school girls go on to earn 20 per cent more and have significantly fewer children. Grammar-educated boys were more likely to reach A levels but otherwise saw no real advantage in wages by the age of 50.

The Long Term Effects of Attending an Elite School: Evidence from the UK is the first study to track the impact of selective school on a generation of children across their lives.

Dr Emilia Del Bono and Professor Damon Clark used the cohort study “Aberdeen Children in the 1950s” which followed 12,500 children born in Aberdeen from ante-natal care through to the age of 50.

The results support claims made by opponents of the grammar school system that performance in a single test at age 11 can determine the whole future for that child.

Dr Del Bono said: “The debate about selective schooling systems continues to this day, particularly in the UK and USA.

“Even though the UK has changed a lot since those children left school, particularly with the expansion of higher education, the results will be of interest to policy makers looking at the organization of school resources and to all those who are searching for ways to increase social mobility.”

Read the report in The Telegraph.

The second study looked at sibling structures, and showed that big sisters consistently do better. The study, by Feifei Bu, reveals that oldest children are the most ambitious, especially girls, and a wider gap between siblings increases the chances of children achieving higher levels of qualifications.

Previous studies, particularly in Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands have revealed that first born children are more likely to achieve higher qualifications but the new research has found this could be partially explained by the fact that they are statistically likely to be more ambitious than their younger brothers and sisters.

Sibling Configurations, Educational Aspiration and Attainment followed 1503 sibling groups and 3532 individuals through the British Household Panel Study and its successor UK panel study, Understanding Society.

The research found that first born children were seven per cent more likely to aspire to stay on in education than their later-born siblings. Firstborn girls were 13 per cent more ambitious than firstborn boys.

Feifei Bu said: “Educational disparities exist not only between families but also within families. It is interesting that we observe a distinct firstborn advantage in education even though parents in modern society are more likely to be egalitarian in treating their children.”

Read the report in The Observer.

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