Tests and assessments carried out at school are often seen as a way of predicting how well a child will do later on in life. However, new research from Professor Richard Cowan, Institute of Education (IOE), suggests that how well a child is doing at one point is no guarantee of later success or difficulty.
Professor Cowan will deliver his presentation, 'Understanding the correlation between intelligence and education', on Friday 5 September at the British Psychological Society's (BPS) Developmental Section annual conference in Amsterdam.
Researchers analysed data from the Twins Early Development Study, selecting one child from each of 1000 pairs of twins. Data on general cognitive skills, mathematics and English language skills were collected during the study.
According to the research a child's ability, particularly in primary school, does not follow a set pattern and there is considerable instability in their progression. The intellectual differences between typical five and 10-year-olds are much greater than the differences between 10 and 15-year-olds.
Professor Cowan, BPS Associate Fellow and Professor of Psychology of Education, IOE said: "The factors influencing the development of intelligence and ability in children are complex. Intellectual tests are more like car MOTs, assessing current performance, than medical blood tests that assess constants like blood type."
Some children may then find their educational success and future life opportunities hampered due to an unreliable judgement being made on their abilities so early on. Conversely, doing less well than their classmates may spur children on to try harder, and result in them demonstrating higher levels of intelligence later on in primary school.
Children who are doing well may also suffer because they come to think they can do well without trying and may become complacent or anxious.
The findings complement previous research that suggests that beliefs held by parents and teachers about ability may affect children. If they believe that success in key subjects such as English or maths reflects fixed abilities rather than effort then they will be less inclined to support children who are struggling.
Professor Cowan continued: "Children develop and change at different rates, and according to a variety of factors. It is important to be wary of the pitfalls of labelling a child as either high or low ability based on testing early on in primary school. Presuming individual differences to be stable for the purposes of selection within schooling is dangerous and not a reliable indicator."