Quality classmates & teachers boost learning

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Getting your child into the right school really does matter, according to scientists, but it's just as much about the quality of classmates as the quality of teachers.

The Daily Telegraph reports that scientists have discovered that the language skills of youngsters is influenced by their peers as well as by their parents and their tutors. Researchers found that the more articulate the class, the more articulate the individual pupils.

The findings appear to support "streaming" in schools and also suggests teachers should encourage children to chat and play so they pick up vocabulary and grammar from each other.

It could also explain why education is becoming more polarised, with the good schools getting better and the worst schools continuing to decline.

The findings back up earlier research by the Sutton Trust which suggested bright pupils in comprehensives were being "dragged down by poor classmates".

They will also fuel calls for more setting and streaming in mixed-ability schools and also a more equal distribution of poor-performing pupils to stop them being ghettoised in a small number of schools

The team of American researchers, who published their findings in the journal Child Development, studied more than 1,800 four-year-olds in over 450 nursery schools.

They tested their language skills before entering the schools and then afterwards to see how they had developed. The various assessments included asking pupils to identify objects from a selection of pictures and also asking them to complete sentences.

Scientists found that those with more eloquent and lucid peers improved more than those with lesser language skills. In other words the gap widened between the articulate and the inarticulate classes.

They found that the effect worked for both "receptive language" – the ability to understand - and "expressive language", the ability to speak.

Unlike what was previously thought, the effect was most pronounced on high achievers as they appeared to be able to soak up more of the knowledge of their peers. Lower achievers were more withdrawn and therefore less likely to learn from friends.

The effect of peer to peer learning was about the same as the effect that a child's parent's level of education had on their ability to communicate, they discovered.

It may provide an important early boost to their academic lives, they concluded.

The report concludes that teachers should concentrate on building a friendly environment that encouraged interaction between pupils, and encourage 'dramatic play' as well as reading books together.