Increasing the minimum school leaving age had a positive effect on the educational attainment of future generations, according to research published in the Economic Journal. The study by Matt Dickson and colleagues finds that increasing parents'' education by one year improved their children''s grades by as much as one grade in two GCSEs.

Following the raising of the participation age of young people in education or training to 18 in 2015, it is worth exploring the effects that previous moves to increase educational participation had among young people.

The researchers compare the education results of children whose parents were affected by the 1972 government reform that raised the minimum school leaving age from 15 to 16, with children whose parents left school just before this change.

The findings reveal the impact of having a parent remain in school an additional year was to improve their children''s results by one grade in three GCSEs. The extent of this positive effect in children''s educational attainment was maintained from pre-school assessment stage (around age 5) right through to GCSE exams (age 16).

Using data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), which tracks nearly 20,000 children born in and around Bristol between 1991 and 1993, the team compare results from tests taken at different ages as the children grew up.

After examining the results of children''s pre-school assessments, the researchers find that children whose parents stayed on in education scored significantly higher than children whose parents left school at an earlier age. This was also the same for key stage tests taken at ages 7, 11 and 14, and when GCSEs and equivalent exams are taken at age 16, the magnitude of the effect remaining about the same at each age.

Around one third of young people in 1972 stayed on the extra year as a result of the policy change, the rest stayed on already. So looking more closely at the affected group by excluding those doing A-levels, the impact is increased to the equivalent of one grade higher in four GCSEs.

Co-author Matt Dickson says:

''The children of more educated parents go on themselves to higher educational achievement. This does not in itself mean that requiring young people to stay on in school improves their children''s attainment.

''But our results suggest that as a result of attaining more education, parents with higher levels of schooling provide a better childhood experience and home environment and consequently their children do better in school.''

The findings are important for the government''s social mobility strategy as they show the full impact of extra parental education and the knock-on effect in their children''s attainment, which is maintained as the children get older.

Matt Dickson adds:

''The raising of the school leaving age to 18 in 2015 (that is full-time education or an apprenticeship) should lead to benefits not just for the generation affected but, also in the future, for their children.''

''Early, Late or Never? When Does Parental Education Impact Child Outcomes?'' by Matt Dickson, Paul Gregg and Harriet Robinson is published in the October 2016 issue of the Economic Journal. Matt Dickson and Paul Gregg are at the University of Bath. Harriet Robinson is at the Office for National Statistics. All are affiliated with the Centre for Market and Public Organisation (CMPO) at the University of Bristol.