EPPSE research: Pre-school leads to higher GSCE grades

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Children who attend a pre-school setting go on to gain better grades at GCSE than those who do not, the latest findings from a major study show.


Children who attend pre-school go on to achieve better GCSE grades

Researchers found that attending any pre-school, compared to none, predicted better results at GCSE overall, and higher grades in GCSE maths and English, as well as the likelihood of achieving five or more GCSEs at grade A* to C.

The benefit of attending pre-school equate to 41 more points at GCSE, the equivalent to gaining seven B grades at GCSE, rather than seven C grades.

A key finding from the latest report is the likely return to society of investing in early education, because attending a pre-school had a positive impact on how well children did at school, which in turn can be used to predict future lifetime earnings.

Further analysis carried out by the Institute of Fiscal Studies shows that children who attend pre-school will be £26,800 better off over their working lives, or around £36,000 for an average household. This was calculated to equate to a benefit to the Exchequer of £16,000 per household.

The latest report from the Effective Pre-school Primary and Secondary Education (EPPSE) project, which has been tracking the lives of more than 3,000 children from the age of three, looks at how well children do at school at the age of 16, as well as their social behaviour, attitudes and what they plan to do when they leave school.

It backs up the findings of previous reports from the project, which also showed the positive benefits of pre-school on children at the age of seven, 11 and 14.

Other key findings from the report are:

  • the quality of pre-school is particularly important for children whose parents had low qualifications;
  • the longer children spent in pre-school the higher their GCSE grades, with those who had spent two to three years in pre-school – whether part-time or full-time – achieving higher GSCE grades overall;
  • boys attending a medium or high-quality pre-school achieved ‘significantly higher’ grades in maths GCSE, than those in lower-quality or not attending pre-school;
  • high quality pre-school is linked to better self-regulation, pro-social behaviour and lower levels of hyperactivity;
  • children attending pre-school, particularly for a longer period, or attending a high-quality setting, are more likely to go on to study four or more A/AS levels;
  • high-quality pre-school continues to influence social behaviour, but its effects are weaker than in previous studies;
  • positive parenting and especially ‘a more stimulating home learning environment’, especially for young children, helps to promote better outcomes;
  • the home learning environment of early years children remains ‘a significant predictor’ of good GCSE results.

The EPPSE project is run jointly by academics from the University of Oxford and the Institute of Education and Birkbeck, University of London.

Research started in 1997 and took place in 141 pre-school settings and was compared with a sample of children who did not attend pre-school.

The children who took part are now aged between 18 and 21.

Sam Gyimah, education and childcare minister, said, ‘Before they have even worn their school uniform for the first time, a child’s life chances are being decided. Early education not only sets a child off on the right foot at school but, as this extensive research shows, has effects that last right into the workplace.

‘No child should start school behind their peers. This is why as part of our plan for education we are committed to providing flexible, affordable and good quality childcare, giving parents more of a choice about where they can send their children, so that they can get the best start in life.’

Kathy Sylva, professor of educational psychology at Oxford University, and one of the project’s principal investigators, said, ‘The EPPSE study is unique because it provides valuable evidence in Europe on the long term value of pre-school – no other research has done this.

‘The results are clear - early education pays off, and high quality pre-school education gives children the very best start in life.

‘High quality early education has enduring benefits for the children who experience it and also the society that invests in it.’

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, ‘These results clearly demonstrate the value of early years care and education. At a time when childcare policy is largely focused on helping parents return to work, this study is a timely reminder of the significant impact that early years provision has on children’s long-term learning and development.

‘Given that the findings show that quality of provision plays such an important role in producing positive educational outcomes, particularly for children from more disadvantaged backgrounds, it’s vital that childcare providers are given the support they need by government – both practical and financial – to deliver consistently high-quality education and care.’

Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years, said, ‘It is fantastic to see that high quality early years provision within nurseries and pre-schools is having a positive impact on children’s educational attainment. We look forward to new research which is underway and includes childminders alongside other providers all delivering the EYFS.’

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of teh National Day Nurseries Association, said, 'What is even more exciting about this study is knowing the standard of early years education has only improved in the two decades since EPPSE started.
'It is vitally important children and families, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds are able to access high quality provision at a nursery of their choice.
'However to make this a possibility there needs to be a comprehensive overview of the way free entitlement is funded. Nurseries providing free places are facing a growing funding black hole as the amount paid by local authorities per hour continues to fall considerably short of the actual cost of providing the place.'

Professor Sylva will be speaking about the EPPSE findings at NDNA’s London member event on Thursday September 11. To book a place visit www.ndna.org.uk

  • Download the latest reports here
  • Read Professor Sylva and Brenda Taggart's specially commissioned feature on the EPPSE findings in the next issue of Nursery World, out on 22 September.
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