SEED: Government-funded study highlights value of early years education for all

All children benefit from early education and care from the age of two, with those from poorer backgrounds likely to benefit even more, a major new report out today shows.

Childminder settings were found to improve children’s language development between the ages of two and three, while children who spent time in nurseries were found to have improved social and emotional development and get on better with their peers.

The findings published by the Department for Education today come from the longitudinal Study of Early Education and Development (SEED), which has been tracking 6,000 children from the age of two.

The latest report is based on findings from a group of around 4,580 children who were still in the cohort at the age of three.

The researchers looked at the associations between children’s time (hours per week) in ECEC aged two to three and children’s outcomes at the age of three.

The study examines group settings and individual settings, both formal and informal.
The report’s author, Edward Melhuish, professor of human development at the University of Oxford, and Birkbeck, University of London, told Nursery World that it was clear from the research that ‘the great majority of children’ were benefiting from being in early education and childcare.

‘Right across the social spectrum, no matter how rich or poor, there were benefits for all children,’ he said.

The findings show that the amount of ECEC children received between the ages of two and three was associated with differences in cognitive and socio-economic outcomes at the age of three.

Positive impacts were found regardless of a child’s household income and the level of disadvantage in the area where they lived.

However, given the low starting point among disadvantaged children, ECEC ‘may be of particular importance to this group’, the report said.

The report concludes that ‘higher language development at age three was related to use of individual ECEC between ages two and three, in both formal ECEC with childminders and informal ECEC with friends, relatives, neighbours and nannies.

‘In addition more favourable socio-emotional outcomes at age three were associated with formal ECEC in both a group (e.g. day nurseries, nursery classes or schools and playgroups) and individual setting (e.g. childminders).’

There was one negative finding for a very small proportion of children -  3 per cent of children in the study - which found that children that spent more than 35 hours in group care a week at the age of three had greater social problems and less self-regulation.
However, further analysis showed this was particularly found in children that had started group care in the first year of life.

The report also found that a rich home learning environment had beneficial effects on cognitive and socio-emotional development, but these were largely independent of the effects of ECEC on outcomes.

Professor Melhuish added, ‘The results from our study show how important children’s early environments, both at home and out-of-home, are for helping their development and well-being. This work can help governments, practitioners and parents make the best choices for children.’

Dr Svetlana Speight, evaluation manager, National Centre for Social Research, said, ‘Today’s report identifies some clear benefits for children from all kinds of backgrounds. At a time when the main political parties are debating extending childcare, this report provides striking evidence on the benefits of early education at the age of two for all children regardless of their circumstances.’

The Foundation Years team at Action for Children, which is part of the SEED research team, visited more than 1,000 early years settings, including childminders, to assess quality.

Sue Robb, head of early years at Action for Children, said, ‘We welcome the first publication in a forthcoming series  of reports which will be helpful to the early years sector in reflecting on practice to improve quality and outcomes for children.’

She added, ‘It’s rewarding that the report highlights the important role childminders play in supporting children’s early language and behaviour and group settings in children’s personnel, social and emotional development.

‘Much of our work here at Action for Children focuses on promoting and formulating partnerships with group settings and childminders  - partnerships that this report makes clear can be a powerful combination when it comes to supporting positive outcomes for children. So we also welcome the fact that today’s report highlights the importance of these environments in supporting children’s well-being and development.’

Take-up of places for funded two-year-olds

The report also looked  at the take-up of funded places for two-year-olds. Funding became available for 15 hours per week of ECEC for two-year-old children from the 20 per cent ‘most disadvantaged’ families in September 2013, and was extended to families from the 20 per cent to 40 per cent ‘moderately disadvantaged’ families from September 2014.

Around one-third of children in the study are from the 20 per cent most disadvantaged, around a third from the 40 per cent group, and a third from the 60 per cent most advantaged.

Findings show that there was a general increase in the use of early childhood education and care (ECEC) over time among disadvantaged families, but limited evidence for increased use of funded ECEC between two and three by families who became eligible in the year following the introduction of the policy.

Limited impact in the short term may be due to local authorities experiencing difficulties ensuring sufficient provision and promoting awareness among eligible families, it said. However, national census data indicates that take-up has improved, suggesting these barriers were overcome over time. The time taken for the policy change is in line with findings from the introduction of Sure Start Local Programmes.

The DfE said it welcomed the findings and said that it showed how important it was that the 30 hours could be used flexibly by parents and split across a range of providers.

Minister for children and families Robert Goodwill said, 'Every child deserves the best start in life. These reports are further evidence that access to early education – whether in formal childcare settings or at home in a supportive family environment – can significantly improve a child’s outcomes.
'That’s why we are more determined than ever that as many families as possible benefit from this, backed by an investment of £6 billion per year in childcare. We know that parents value the variety of childcare that is available, and today’s research shows that having this choice can benefit a child’s development in different ways, ensuring the maximum impact on their learning.'

  • Also published today is a report on the potential value for money of early education by Frontier Economics.

The latest reports from  SEED - Impact Study of Early Education Use and Child Outcomes Up to Age 3 -  are published by the DfE here.

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