Class affects children’s progress more than parenting, says study

Children’s progress in their first two years at school is still largely driven by their parents’ social class rather than ‘good parenting’, a UK-wide study has concluded.

Children’s progress in their first two years at school is still largely driven by their parents’ social class rather than ‘good parenting’, a UK-wide study has concluded.

Researchers from the Institute of Education analysed more than 11,000 seven year olds and found a large gap between 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. Furthermore, this gap was about four months wider at 7 than it had been at age 5.

The new report 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 finding that social class is still such a strong predictor of differences in the cognitive and educational scores of five and seven-year-olds confounds a good deal of received wisdom," said Dr Alice Sullivan, principal author of the study. "For example, Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, recently blamed low levels of social mobility on class-based differences in parenting.

"Our research shows that while parenting is important, a policy focus on parenting alone is insufficient to tackle the impacts of social inequalities on children. Redistributive economic policies may be more effective than policies directly addressing parenting practices. Another implication of our findings is that exposure to schooling has not put social differentials in attainment into reverse."

The researchers analysed children’s 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.

The analysis showed that social class differentials widened between age 5 and 7 in teacher evaluations as well as ability scores, despite the previous Labour government’s investment in early-years programmes and parenting schemes designed to help the poorest children. 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 performance 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. However, the researchers acknowledge that the standard measure of educational achievement they used – the five-level National Vocational Qualifications scale – may be an inadequate gauge of parents’ abilities and cultural resources.

 





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