The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and carried out by researchers at the University of Nottingham and the University of Bristol, quizzed more than 11,000 children and their parents.
The parents completed questionnaires just before their children’s fourth birthdays in order to assess whether their children showed signs of hyperactivity, inattention or conduct problems.
Twelve years on, the children’s GCSE results were examined. After making adjustments for variables like “IQ, maternal and paternal education and parental social class”, the researchers found that boys who showed high levels of hyperactivity or inattention at 47 months were
33 per cent more likely not to achieve five GCSE A* to C grades.
For boys, hyperactivity, inattention and conduct problems were associated with worse academic outcomes. For girls, conduct problems had a similar impact on educational achievement.
Dr Kapil Sayal, one of the lead researchers and reader in child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Nottingham, said that the research showed that early identification of children with hyperactivity and inattention problems is crucial.
“Our study shows that behavioural problems present at the age of three years have an impact on academic attainment at the age of 16 years,” he said.
“Teachers are well placed to identify young children with high levels of behavioural problems.
“Teachers should be encouraged to enhance their awareness of the long-term implications of early behavioural difficulties and to take parental concerns about behaviour problems seriously.”
Dr Sayal added: “Early academic support for children with these problems may help to reduce the long-term risk of poorer academic outcomes.”