The final report of the first major study into the impact of pre-school education in the country, Effective Pre-School Provision in Northern Ireland (EPPNI), due this week, has found that children who attend any early years setting at all do better than those with no pre-school education.
The findings, based on children's progress at primary school at the age of eight, chime with those of the Effective Provision of Pre-school Education study in England.
Speaking before the report's publication, Professor Edward Melhuish, of Birkbeck College, London, told Nursery World, 'In almost all respects the results parallel the EPPE work. It's clear in both countries that pre-school aids cognitive and social development.'
He added, 'This pattern of results is replicated with completely different populations. There is a difference in the nature of provision, but the overall message is very similar.'
As with the EPPE study, the better the quality of early years provision, the better children's outcomes. Professor Melhuish said, 'By and large better quality is associated where qualified teachers are present.'
The EPPNI research has followed 850 children at 80 pre-school settings since 1998 in nursery schools and classes, playgroups, private day nurseries and reception groups and classes. A control group of 150 children stayed at home.
Unlike EPPE, no integrated centres took part because they do not exist in Northern Ireland.
Children who attended nursery schools and classes had the best outcomes at the age of eight, followed by those attending playgroups, private day nurseries and reception groups and classes.
Professor Melhuish said that a notable difference was the quality of children's experiences in playgroups, where there tended to be a higher number of trained staff in Northern Ireland.
It is the duration of time overall in pre-school that makes a difference, not whether children attend part time or full time.
Professor Melhuish will present the findings at a joint EPPNI and British Psychological Society conference at Stranmillis University College, Belfast, on Saturday 29 April.
The report is available at www.deni.gov.uk.