You are here

Competent children at 8: Families, early education, and schools

Competent children at 8: Families, early education, and schools
Cathy Wylie, Jean Thompson and Cathy Lythe

This is the third project report. It describes the competencies of 523 children at age 8, in the context of their schools and homes. It compares the data for age 8 with the data gathered when the children were 5 and 6.

What makes the most difference to competency levels?

  • Family resources - especially family income and mother's education - show the strongest associations with competency levels. Low income in children's early years is more strongly associated with lower competency levels than current low income. But continuing low income from 5 to 8 appears to have the most negative effect on children's competencies.
  • Early childhood education (ECE) continues to make a difference at age 8, as it did earlier. Children who started ECE before age 2, or had more than 4 years' ECE, had higher scores regardless of family income.
  • Quality of ECE makes a difference, too. High-quality services provide variety, allow children to choose or initiate, and let them complete projects or activities. Staff behaviour is also important.
  • Being active and using new knowledge and skills at home and at school also make a difference. Reading a newspaper, using the public library, using maths in daily life, and using a computer (especially graphics software) help all children, but particularly children from low-income homes.

Can we predict children's competency scores?

  • Scores between age 8 and age 6 were more consistent than scores between ages 5 and 6. The best indication of overall performances at age 8 comes from scores at age 6 for mathematics and literacy, communication, perseverance, and individual responsibility.

How stable are children's scores over time?

  • Children who scored in the bottom and top quartiles at age 5 had the most consistent results over time - that is, they were highly likely to stay in those quartiles at age 6 and age 8.
  • Mäori children who scored below the median at age 5 were more likely to remain there at age 8 than non-Mäori children, and to make less progress between age 5 and age 6. Boys moved up and down more than girls. But boys who started in the bottom quartile at age 5 were more likely than girls to stay there at age 8.
  • Children from families with low income or low mother's education were more likely to stay in the bottom quartile, and to move down from the top quartile, than other children. Sole-parent families were much more likely to have low incomes. Over one in four, 27%, of the children's parents had lost or changed partners since the children were born.

Eight years old and competent is a handy summary to this report.

Year published: 
Publication type: 
Research report
Full text download: 
not full-text
Cathy Lythe
Jean Thompson