Strand 2: Antecedents of Cognitive Outcomes in Adolescence

Leader: Anna Vignoles Strand Publications

The focus of this strand is to study academic achievements within the context of broader development. There is recognition in policy and academic discourses that: i) the influences on academic achievements are broad ranging and include the children’s own values, beliefs, and motivation, and the sustained effects of the early environment and, ii) skills like attention and self-regulation play important roles in the development of academic achievement. Thus, it is important to develop and test models of cognitive and academic achievement that recognise these broader aspects of the development of children and young people. The projects set out in this strand focus on this objective, bringing together theoretical and methodological approaches from economics, development psychology and psychiatry in order to model and test hypotheses.

2.1 Cognitive trajectories

Researchers Duckworth, Gutman

We want to describe the education achievement, cognitive trajectories and non-cognitive trajectories/outcomes of the ALSPAC children, and explore how this appears to vary by distal factors such as SES.

a) Description of cognitive trajectories, related to distal factors (SES, gender, income etc)

b) Description of the inter-relation between cognitive and non-cognitive trajectories/ outcomes.

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2.2 Models of children’s cognitions

Researchers: Duckworth, Eccles, Schoon, Vignoles

We want to explore the determinants of school achievement, focusing on the role of both children’s cognitions and their contexts. The work will relate closely to project 2.4 below, as account will need to be taken of the school context. However, the emphasis for this project will be on how early development leads to education achievement (as measured by Key Stage test scores).

a) Impact of early ability self-concepts/ task values on education achievement. Based on the Expectancy Value model (Eccles et al. 1998, Eccles and Wigfield, 2002), we will explore the importance of self-concepts, self-efficacy and valuations of subject worth as key cognitions in determining educational enagement and subsequent success. This project remains largely unchanged from the original specification.

b) Interactions between contexts during primary school.  This work will assess the relative importance of children’s developmental contexts for academic success in terms of Key Stage 2 attainment. We will use rich, longitudinal data to tease out how different developmental contexts influence, separately and together, attainment at the end of primary school in English, maths and science. Four contextual domains will be considered: child capabilities (the characteristics and abilities of the child); distal features of the family (including parents’ education, SES, family size and structure; housing tenure); proximal features of the family (measures of parenting and family relationships) and school quality (average KS1 – KS2 valued added measure, average proportion of pupils eligible for FSM and statemented for SEN, school type). The research questions will be:

        i) How tightly are different developmental and social contexts coupled?

        ii) How do multiple contexts influence Key Stage 2 attainment?

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2.3 Maternal depression

Researchers: Evans, Paul Ramchandani, Stein, O’Connor, Murray, Heron

A considerable body of research has established that postnatal depression affects mother-child interaction, and that the children of mothers affected by postnatal depression are at increased risk of a range of problems including compromised cognitive development (Murray et al. 1996; Sinclair and Murray, 1998; Kurstjens and Wolke, 2001). Recent work has highlighted the importance of fathers’ depression in children’s outcomes (Ramchandani, 2005).

We will explore whether the first postnatal year is an especially sensitive period for maternal depression to influence cognitive development. Likewise, does the mental health of the father have an impact on cognitive development?

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2.4 The role of schools

Researchers: Duckworth, Gutman, Vignoles

We will do the following:

a) Explore whether there are potential trade offs between good educational achievement and non-cognitive outcomes and how this varies by school type. In other words, assessing whether or not schools that achieve high value-added in terms of mental-health and well-being also promote high value added in pupils’ academic achievement. School transition will be an important period for the analysis as it will provide an extra level of statistical variation as pupils move in different ways between primary and secondary schools (this is conditional on getting the KS3 test scores).

b) Explore the relationship between three elements of school readiness – school entry, attention and socio-emotional skills – and later academic achievement. The models will build on work by Duncan et al. (2007), which found that early math skills have the greatest predictive power for later school reading and math achievement. That work found that socio-emotional behaviours did not predict later academic performance. These issues will be explored in the ALSPAC data for the first time, making use of the myriad of pre-school and primary school measures of children’s contexts, cognitions and values.

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2.5 Peer group project

Researchers: Gregg, Vignoles, Duckworth

Because we have background information and prior attainment of most of the children in any class in the cohort year, we have a unique observation of the interaction between individual and class-level factors. The focus here will be on estimating the effects of peer composition on school attainment in terms of Key Stage scores using the three school years in ALSPAC to deal with the endogeneity of school choice.

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