Headstart at school for rich parents' offspring

Five-month gap in skills between middle-income children and their more affluent peers, study says

Richard Garner
Wednesday 14 December 2011 01:00

Children from middle-income families start school with skills five months behind those of their more affluent peers, research suggests.

Despite a home environment that is often quite similar to that of richer pupils, middle-income children lag behind in class and are more poorly behaved, according to a study by the Resolution Foundation, a think-tank which highlights the experiences of low-to-middle income (LMI) households.

Child development experts Jane Waldfogel and Elizabeth Washbrook, said the reasons for the gap in performance were that wealthier parents could devote more time to reading to children and arranging visits to museums and libraries than LMI families earning between £24,000 and £42,000 a year.

Seventy-five per cent of three-year-olds in the higher-income group were read to every day, compared with 62 per cent of those from LMI families, they found. Forty-two per cent were taken to a library once a month, compared with 35 per cent of the LMI group.

Another factor was the age of the mothers in the LMI group: on thewhole they were younger and had fewer academic qualifications. They were also at greater risk of social isolation, post-natal depression, had lower self-esteem and less sense of control over their lives.

The researchers found that a family's lifestyle – whether the children were in single-parent families or not – did not contribute to lower vocabulary skills. It could, however, lead to poorer behaviour.

The report's authors warned that ministers were "short-sighted" if they concentrated scarce resources on just improving the performance of disadvantaged pupils. "While the focus of much government policy is understandably on the extremely poor outcomes of many of the most vulnerable children, there is substantial room for improvement in the school readiness of LMI children who... make up a third of their total cohort," they said. Neglecting such children would deal a blow to Britain's economic future, Ms Waldfogel and Ms Washbrook added.

The researchers studied the performance of about 15,000 five-year-olds.

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