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 Child of the New Century and the 1970 British Cohort Study, which follows a group of people all born in a single week in 1970.

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 14. 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.

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.