The £5m eight-year research project will track children from before they start nursery, from the age of two until the end of Key Stage 1.
It is funded by the Department for Education and led by NatCen Social Research with 4Children and Frontier Economics, who will carry out a cost benefit and value for money analysis.
Leading early years academic Professor Edward Melhuish is also providing advice to the research team.
It is the largest longitudinal early years study since the landmark EPPE (Effective Provision of Pre-School Education) project, which started in 1997.
Speaking exclusively to Nursery World, Sue Robb, head of early years at 4 Children, said, ‘Obviously the world of early years in 1997 was very different and there was very little provision. The new study will look at early education in England and is the first piece of longitudinal research to explore the issues since then.
‘The sector has been asking for more research; it’s something that many people have been asking for.’
Ms Robb pointed out that the Early Years Foundation Stage, free early years education for two-, three- and four-year-olds, and Early Years Professionals, did not exist when the EPPE research started.
She said that unlike EPPE, the eight-year study would assess provision across the whole early years sector, whether it was in nurseries, pre-schools, nursery schools, children’s centres, nursery classes in schools or with childminders.
‘Part of the evidence findings will help us to understand what good quality early education is.’
‘It’s very early days yet and we’re pulling the sample together now. We’re interviewing the parents of the children who will be starting the two-year-old offer and we will be following them through to seven.’
4Children’s work will focus on visits to around 1,000 early years settings, including childminders.
In 2014 a team of early years experts will visit the settings to make a judgement on the quality of provision.
Ms Robb said, ‘What I think is important is that we wanted some more up-to-date research on what we’re delivering. This will be the longest piece of research to look at the impact of the EYFS and universal three- and four-year-old offer and the offer for two-year-olds.’
The study will also examine provision for children in lower income families and for those with special educational needs and disabilities.
Last year the Public Accounts Committee criticised the Department for Education for failing to understand and monitor the funding for the free entitlement for three- and four-year-olds.
A report by the cross-party group of MPs found that the department had ‘a limited understanding of how the funding it provides for early education is spent’.
Dr Jane O’Brien, director of children and young people at NatCen Social Research, said, ‘The Government spends nearly £3 billion a year on early years education for very young children and is planning to spend more. This study will help us to understand what effect early years research has and if the Government is getting value for money.’
Deborah Lawson, general secretary of Voice, the union for education professionals, welcomed the research. 'However, we are interested to know how all the proposed changes to regulation, registration and inspection, which are likely to be implemented during the course of the research, will be accounted for,' she said.
‘I would also question whether ending the research in the second year of primary is too early to fully assess the total impact on children’s academic achievement, aspirations and future education, training and employment prospects.’