School Readiness at 4 Predicts Teen Outcomes

Summary: A new study finds that children not deemed “school ready” at age 4 are significantly more likely to be unemployed or out of education by 16. This early disadvantage also predicts lower GCSE achievement.

Researchers used data from over 8,000 Bradford young people to identify this link. This highlights the need for early intervention in schools to reduce later disadvantage.

Key Facts:

  • School readiness at 4 is a strong predictor of unemployment and education drop-out at 16.
  • Children who were not school-ready were 3x more likely to be NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) at 16.
  • This early disadvantage also leads to lower GCSE achievement.

Source: University of Leeds

School readiness at age 4-5 could help predict unemployment and education drop-out at age 16-17, according to a study led by the University of Leeds with Lancaster University.

Children who were behind in their development at age 4-5 were almost three times as likely to have been out of education, employment, or training at age 16-17, analysis of pupil data has found. 

4-5-year-olds in England are assessed by the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile, and those who reach the threshold of a ‘good level of development’ are considered ‘school ready’. 

This shows a little boy.
The research found that 11% of children who were not school ready went on to be NEET at 16-17, compared to just 4% of children who were school ready. Credit: Neuroscience News

The new study in the journal BMC Public Health has found a significant gap in GCSE results and Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) outcomes between those who were ready and unready for primary school.

The research drew on data from more than 8,000 Bradford young people whose records are linked as part of the Connected Bradford project. 

Lead author Dr Matthew Warburton, Research Officer at Leeds’ School of Psychology, said: “These findings tell us that there are clear, early indicators for children and young people being at risk of disadvantage in late adolescence. As schools routinely collect this data, the research could be used to kickstart early intervention in schools based on primary school readiness.” 

The research found that 11% of children who were not school ready went on to be NEET at 16-17, compared to just 4% of children who were school ready. 

This early disadvantage also predicted achievement at GCSE level. Of children who were assessed as not school ready, 44% achieved GCSEs at level 2 (grade 4 or above) in English, Maths, and five subjects overall, where 77% of those school ready achieved these results.  

The research team, which also included academics from Lancaster University and the Bradford Institute for Health Research, say this shows a clear need for early intervention by schools to reduce disadvantage in later life. 

This echoes the message from a series of N8 Child of the North and Centre for Young Lives reports on the need to put children and young people first.  

Senior author Dr Amy Atkinson, Lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Lancaster University said: “Data from the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile is readily available for millions of children and young people in England. This information could, and should, be used to identify pupils at increased risk of becoming NEET.” 

The study was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research, UK Prevention Research Partnership, the Medical Research Council, and an anonymous donation to the University of Leeds for Dr Warburton to investigate NEET. 

The researchers point out that data availability meant that NEET could only be assessed at 16-17 years of age, with further work needed to assess this trajectory over a longer timescale.

Funding: This work was supported by the National Institute for Health Research [grant number NIHR133648], UK Prevention Research Partnership [grant number MR/S037527/1], and the Medical Research Council [grant number MR/W014416/1]. M. Mon-Williams was supported by a Fellowship from the Alan Turing Institute, and M. Warburton was supported by funding from an anonymous donation to the University of Leeds to investigate NEET. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

About this neurodevelopment research news

Author: Mia Saunders
Source: University of Leeds
Contact: Mia Saunders – University of Leeds
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.
Risk of not being in employment, education or training (NEET) in late adolescence is signalled by school readiness measures at 4–5 years” by Matthew Warburton et al. BMC Public Health


Risk of not being in employment, education or training (NEET) in late adolescence is signalled by school readiness measures at 4–5 years


Not being in employment, education, or training (NEET) is associated with poor health (physical and mental) and social exclusion. We investigated whether England’s statutory school readiness measure conducted at 4–5 years provides a risk signal for NEET in late adolescence.


We identified 8,118 individuals with school readiness measures at 4–5 years and NEET records at 16–17 years using Connected Bradford, a bank of linked routinely collected datasets. Children were categorised as ‘school ready’ if they reached a ‘Good Level of Development’ on the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile. We used probit regression and structural equation modelling to investigate the relationship between school readiness and NEET status and whether it primarily relates to academic attainment.


School readiness was significantly associated with NEET status. A larger proportion of young people who were not school ready were later NEET (11%) compared to those who were school ready (4%). Most of this effect was attributable to shared relationships with academic attainment, but there was also a direct effect. Measures of deprivation and Special Educational Needs were also strong predictors of NEET status.


NEET risk factors occur early in life. School readiness measures could be used as early indicators of risk, with interventions targeted to prevent the long-term physical and mental health problems associated with NEET, especially in disadvantaged areas. Primary schools are therefore well placed to be public health partners in early intervention strategies.

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