Development in the early years: its importance for school performance and adult outcomes
(2006) Leon Feinstein and Kathryn Duckworth
Wider Benefits of Learning Research Report No.20
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Early development of children’s intellectual, social and physical abilities has the potential to affect their long term achievement, beyond the initial introduction to the classroom, through their school lives and into adulthood. A greater understanding of the processes at work in these early years and their role in later success is therefore important to ensure that resources are appropriately targeted.
Past research has shown that early cognitive attainment is strongly related to later academic success. But we are also interested in the benefit that children gain from arriving at school with particular personal characteristics and the relationship which these may have to cognitive development. We also seek to explore the role of development (as opposed to innate capability) in the pre-school years. Data from the 1970 British Cohort Study is used to examine the importance of early measures of children’s cognitive ability and behavioural development for their subsequent school and labour market achievement.
Our results suggest that, of the various measures used in this study, the most powerful predictor of later academic and labour market success is the ability of children to copy basic designs. However, we do not ignore the influence of behavioural factors and highlight the particular importance of skills related to attention with respect to these outcomes.
The results clearly show that early development of both cognitive and behavioural skills have a role in subsequent achievement. In this respect, we believe that the findings in this report add to the debate on the appropriate balance between cognitive and non-cognitive skills at different ages and for different groups of children. In particular, failure to place sufficient emphasis on cognitive development may run counter to the interests of children from low SES groups. We believe that pedagogy should continue to address ways in which cognitive and non-cognitive abilities can support one another and how the interactions between these different groups of skills can best be harnessed for different groups of children.
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