Early years benefits all

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It's clear that nurseries and childminders benefit the majority of children, regardless of background,says Professor Edward Melhuish, lead author of the latest SEED research


Professor Edward Melhuish, lead author of the latest research from the Study of Early Education and Development (SEED)

Generally, we find children who have early education and care from two years of age are doing better at age three. The benefits appear right across the social spectrum for all families, no matter how rich or poor – there are benefits for all children.

Those children in individual care have better language outcomes, but social outcomes are not affected. This probably is due to more one-to-one interaction in individual settings. We did look separately at childminders who are being paid by the funded two-year-old offer, but there are similar effects for individual care, whether children are funded or non-funded. From a child’s point of view, it doesn’t matter where the funding comes from.

In group care, in nurseries and pre-schools, children’s social and emotional development improved – children are mixing with a wider range of adults and there are more children with more peer play, and social skills develop.

We find that parenting is also important. For example, the  home learning environment, which was originally highlighted in the EPPE (Effective Preschool and Primary Education) study, deals with the learning opportunities offered in the home. For example, this would include activities such as playing, reading to the child, and opportunities to paint and draw, play with shapes, letters and numbers, learning songs, or nursery rhymes, and visits to the library. 

We find that where the home learning environment is better, children’s cognitive and social development is better. Also parents respond differently when a child is naughty. Where parents take active steps to set limits with children’s behaviour, we see benefits for children’s development.

There was one negative finding for a very small proportion of children, where around 3 per cent of children who were in group care for more than 35 hours a week had more conduct problems and less emotional self-regulation. When we analysed this further, it was primarily for children who had started in group care early, often in the first year of life. They had problems controlling their emotions, and showed more conduct problems, for example temper tantrums. We found similar effects in the EPPE study, where we followed children to the end of school, and we found that the effect of high levels of group care starting early in life had washed out later on by the end of primary school.

In September the Government is increasing the 15 hours a week free childcare for three- and four-year-olds to 30 hours a week. The reason is to help  women’s participation in the workforce. If parents are worried about the longer hours of childcare, one possible solution is to share long hours between individual and group care, and this should avoid any problems.
It’s clear that early childhood education and care is having benefits for the great majority of children. We’re following this up further at four, five and seven. At age three we had 4,580 children and families in our study, and we would like to follow them to the end of school, as we did with the EPPE study, which showed the positive effects of good-quality early education right through to the end of school.

  • Read the reports from the Impact Study of Early Education and Child Outcomes Up to Age 3 here
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