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Research Case studies

Relative Age Effects of school year groups


Can you remember your classmates at school? They were all of a similar age, right? That’s because children born from September 1 to August 31 go into the same year group at school, but we think this prompts an important question - are all the pupils in this 12-month age group developmentally alike?

Our researchers – which include PhD students – contest the notion that children in the same year group are similar developmentally.

In theory, teachers and coaches should be able to plan lessons to match the development stages of their pupils, but our investigations into Relative Age Effects (RAEs) show that different opportunities and experiences exist within an age group.

For example, using the date of birth structure which dictates year groups in schools, the age difference between two children in the same class is anything up to 364 days. This gap can bring subsequent disadvantages to younger pupils, and favours the older ones.

The effects are particularly evident in westernised sports such as football and rugby, where those born in the first three months of a year group are substantially more likely to be selected to participate in school sport teams, recreational teams, reach regional representation and – in the longer term – the oldest are also more likely to play sport at a professional level.

And in compulsory education the evidence is equally as startling, with younger children more likely to attain low grades across a range of subject areas.

So, what can be done?

We are involved in several lines of funded research in an effort to understand how RAEs occur, to raise awareness and look to eliminate the long-term inequalities.

Our research team – which includes Dr Steve Cobley, Dr Kevin Till, Dr Nick Wattie, Prof Carlton

Cooke and Prof Jim McKenna – are currently working alongside local and international organisations, such as the Rugby Football League and Canadian Ice Hockey.

In another area of study, our research group have worked with staff at a local comprehensive school to reduce the RAEs found in a range of subjects. This involved staff awareness and training - provided by Leeds Beckett - and creating new lesson and assessment plans for the classroom.
Our research and analysis is informing both decision-makers and practitioners about the problem, and these groups are beginning to recognise the issue of RAE’s, looking to take steps toward positive changes.

More information

You can find out more about our research into Relative Age Effects by contacting Steve Cobley.

student working with young school kids

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