Not enough evidence that funded childcare works, say researchers

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Government attempts to improve children's outcomes are hampered by a lack of evidence, researchers said today.

two-year-old

The EIF wants the Government to focus examining the impact of programmes and interventions on the under threes

The Education Policy Institute (EPI) and the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) say that Government cash is being committed to programmes which display insufficient evidence of improved children's outcomes.

‘Despite the strong consensus that high-quality childcare provision can generate significant and sustained improvements in child outcomes, there remains a lack of clarity as to what this high-quality provision looks like in practice’ the two bodies said today in a joint statement.

Two reports into the key features of high-quality provision, published today, say that the lack of research means policy-makers are not able to focus their attention on children at greatest risk of falling behind their peers in terms of key developmental milestones.

In ‘Teaching, Pedagogy and Practice in Early Years Childcare’ the authors say further evidence on the impact of specific practices for children under the age of three would be very relevant to help maximise the impact of the Government’s disadvantaged two-year-old offer in particular.

Other evidence gaps identified in the report and which the EIF says should be top of the Government’s research agenda include:

  • The sustained impacts of programmes. The EIF says future studies should prioritise conducting more follow-up measurements with children over longer periods of time. Without such evidence, policy-makers and practitioners are not able to focus their attention on programmes with the longest impacts, it argues.
  • Research on pedagogical practices and principles such as scaffolding and child-centred learning, which are widely accepted as being part of effective early years education, to see if they lead to improvements in children’s outcomes.

A second report, ‘Structural elements of quality early years provision’, by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) focuses on children’s day to day experiences, with what it calls the ‘iron triangle’-workforce training and professional development, child: staff ratios and group size, of central importance.

It too pinpoints gaps in evidence for ‘what works’ and puts forward suggestions for areas where further investigation or trials could take place; they include:

  • More ‘rigorous’ research to understand the value added of a degree with a specialism in early childhood and to assess whether continued professional development can be a substitute for pre-qualification training
  • That additional testing should be carried out on the effectiveness of different staffing structures (levels and types of qualifications, training routes into the profession and years of experience)
  • More research into the impact of smaller ratios and class size in nursery and Reception Year classes without changing teachers’ qualification requirements.

The report concludes, ‘While there is no unique recipe to create a high quality early years system, we also know that a systematic approach and political willingness to increase investments in the sector are needed.’

Commenting on the reports, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, 'Both reports also raise important concerns about the serious gaps in the evidence being used to underpin the development of early years policy in this country. If the Government truly is committed to supporting young children’s learning, and particular those children from more disadvantaged backgrounds, it must ensure that these evidence gaps are filled.'

Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi said, 'We want every child to have the best start in life which is why we are spending more than any other government on supporting early years education and childcare – around £6 billion a year by 2020. And we’re seeing improving outcomes in the early years – the proportion of children achieving a good level of development by the end of reception increased from 60 per cent in 2014 to 70 per cent last year.

'There are no great early years settings without great professionals working in them, which is why we want to continue to attract the brightest and the best. This ambition is backed by £20 million to provide training and professional development for early years staff in disadvantaged areas to increase their ability to support children’s early speech and language development.'

  • The EIF's report on process quality is here
  • The EPI's report on structural quality is here
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