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Award-winning research paper links birthdate with NCEA results

16 July 2019

The 2019 Stats NZ Prize for a paper with “the best use of official statistics” has been awarded to University of Canterbury researchers whose work concluded that the timing of a child’s fifth birthday, and when they typically first start school, may impact on their NCEA results and University Entrance (UE) later on.


UC PhD student Asaad Ali and Associate Professor Andrea Menclova with Stats NZ Chief Methodologist Vince Galvin.

Associate Professor Andrea Menclova and PhD student Asaad Ali from the UC Business School were awarded the prize at the 60th Annual Conference of the New Zealand Association of Economists (NZAE) this month.

The paper, Returns to Initial Years of Formal Education: How Birthdate Affects Later Educational Outcomes, found that the date of birth affects the amount of time spent in primary school and may further impact educational outcomes.

“The finding is unique to New Zealand where primary school attendance typically starts as soon as a child turns five years old,” Associate Professor Menclova says. “Depending on the timing of the fifth birthday, children either go to Year 0 or Year 1. They then proceed to the next grade in February the following year, regardless of how much time they have spent in the previous grade.”

“More specifically, if a child’s birth date is between January and May, that child will often spend the year he or she turns five in Year 1 and the next year in Year 2. However, if a child’s birth date is between June and December, the student will usually spend the year he or she turns five in Year 0 and the next year in Year 1, which means they effectively get more time in the early formal education setting.”

Using confidentialised microdata accessed via a Stats NZ Tatauranga Aotearoa data lab at UC’s Business School, the researchers found that students with an additional month of early schooling are on average 5% more likely to meet UE, when all other aspects are equal.

“Controlling for demographic and socio-economic characteristics, we found that an additional month spent in Years 0/1 increases the probability of achieving NCEA level 1 by 2%, NCEA level 2 by 4%, NCEA level 3 by 6%, and UE by 5%.”

In most other developed countries, all children turning a specific age in a certain academic year begin school on the same date and receive the same amount of primary education in total.

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