Children with behavioural problems at age five may need extra literacy support at school

Boy reading in a classroom with teacher looking onChildren with severe behaviour and hyperactivity problems at age five tend to do less well in vocabulary assessments as teenagers, according to a new study using data from BCS70 and the Millennium Cohort Study, which follows a generation of young people born in 2000-02.

Researchers from the UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies analysed information about your behaviour that your parents provided when you were five, and scores from vocabulary exercises you took at age 16. They found that for both studies, children with severe behaviour and hyperactivity problems knew 12% fewer words, even after taking into account other factors such as family background and previous vocabulary scores.

The researchers also found that teenagers born at the turn of the millennium knew, on average, fewer words on the vocabulary test than your generation. This might be partly due to the fact that they took the test when they were two years younger, at age 14 (compared to age 16 for BCS70). The authors noted that further research was needed to determine whether this might also be due to a decline in reading books as compared to other activities (such as online activities).

Why this research matters

These findings are especially important as poor literacy in childhood, including vocabulary, can affect children’s exam results throughout their schooling, and what kind of job they’re likely to have later. The authors of the study have called on policymakers and teachers to intervene as early as possible to help ensure children get the support they need to fulfil their potential.

Co-author, Professor Alice Sullivan (UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies) said: “Children with behaviour problems at school entrance may require additional input at school to support the development of their vocabulary. Teachers are well placed to identify children with problematic behaviour who need additional support.”

Find out more

To find out more about the study, please read the Times Education Supplement’s Q&A with the researchers. The full research paper was published on The British Educational Research Journal website in July 2021.