Education

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27 April 2017

Girls more than boys are starting school with more of the behavioural skills that have been shown to predict academic success.

QUT’s Professor Susan Walker said the behavioural skills of children in classrooms in Prep/Reception and Year 1 was a factor that predicted their later academic achievements.  She said that girls start school with more “self-regulation” skills, including the ability to pay attention, work independently, stay focused on tasks, and attempt to control their behaviour.

Boys, on the other hand, start Prep/Reception or Year 1 with less developed self-regulation skills, and at the same time have been assessed by their teachers as having higher rates of “problem behaviours” than girls – including conduct problems, hyperactivity and demonstrating emotional symptoms.

Professor Walker and QUT Adjunct Professor Donna Berthelsen have co-authored an article published in the latest edition of the Australasian Journal of Early Childhood – Gender differences in early literacy and mathematics achievement and self-regulatory behaviours in the first year of school: An Australian study.

Professor Walker said the capacity to demonstrate self-regulation skills was linked to learning across many areas of academic work in the classroom.

“There is a lot of evidence that a successful transition from pre-school or home to school is important to children’s engagement and achievement,” Professor Walker said.

“Our findings suggest that starting school with a level of self-regulation skills is a significant factor in that transition.

“Children would benefit from teachers incorporating the development of self-regulatory and executive function skills, like retaining information/instructions, controlling impulses and being able to focus, from the beginning of formal schooling. But even earlier at pre-school and at home, children should be provided with opportunities to develop these skills which we’ve shown to be important for future academic achievement.”

Professor Walker used data from the Australian Institute of Family Studies’ Growing Up in Australia: the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) to explore gender differences in self-regulatory behaviours and problem behaviours – as assessed by classroom teachers – and how these behaviours might predict children’s later success in language, literacy and mathematics.

She found that above and beyond family, social and demographic characteristics such as income, education and cultural background, a child’s classroom behaviour was an indicator of future academic success – and that girls were starting school with an advantage.

“Teachers reported more favourable ratings of girls’ self-regulatory behaviours and lower problem-behaviour scores,” Professor Walker said.

“Girls are entering school better equipped for learning and with better self-regulatory behaviours than boys, which enable them to take greater advantage of the school-based learning environment and are a predictor of success. Boys are less ready to learn and respond to the school environment.”

Professor Walker’s study also demonstrated that girls in Year 1 had higher language and literacy scores than boys, but there was little difference in mathematical scores.

“These findings indicate that there is already a gap between boys’ and girls’ literacy and language learning when children start school,” Professor Walker said.

“The gender gap in academic achievement that exists in the first year of school may potentially widen as children progress through school, particularly if boys do not develop important self-regulatory skills that continue to engage them in academic learning in the classroom.”

Professor Walker also said there was increasing evidence that many “problem behaviours” may be at least partly due to unidentified and undiagnosed learning issues, such as language difficulties, that trigger “acting out”.

“A focus on helping teachers become aware of possible underlying factors that may contribute to problem behaviours is an important step in providing a level playing field,” she said.

Professor Walker noted that the ratings of children’s behaviour used in her study were based on teachers’ subjective assessments. However, she said, previous research had found that these assessments were reliable.

For more information or an interview contact Professor Sue Walker at QUT on 61 7 3138 3195 or at sue.walker@qut.edu.au

 

Sue Walker and Donna Berthelsen, ‘Gender differences in early literacy and mathematics achievement and self-regulatory behaviours in the first year of school: An Australian study’, Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 42 (1), 70-78.

New QUT research suggests a 'gender gap' in academic achievement among children in Prep and Grade 1.

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