The timing of the Education Policy Institute’s (EPI) Annual Lecture, held last month, could not have been more relevant. At the lecture, entitled ‘Education for Long Run Success’, Professor Kirabo Jackson of Northwestern University, Illinois, presented findings from his research on the impact of variation in education spending by both neighbourhoods and age phases.
The key message from his research was that investments are most cost-effective when they start early and are sustained throughout childhood.
Professor Jackson found that an additional 10 per cent in school spending leads to an additional 0.31 years of education. For children from low-income backgrounds, that rises to 0.46 years. Those impacts are greater still when coupled with investment in the US’s Head Start programme – the blueprint for Sure Start. He also found an impact on later-life outcomes, including high-school graduation, wages and incarceration rates.
So, as all eyes turn to the general election and what each of the main parties is offering in terms of early years and education, Professor Jackson’s research should be at the forefront of our minds.
EPI’s analysis of pledges found some clear differences between the current Government’s approach and that of Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Where there is commonality is that all of the parties are committing to increasing school spending. By 2022-23, under Conservative and Liberal Democrat plans, spending would increase by around £4.5 billion, returning broadly to the same level in real terms as 2009-10, while Labour would increase school spending by £7.5 billion.
But there are clearer differences in the early years. While Labour and the Lib Dems offer significant increases in universal entitlements and spending for the under-fives, the Conservatives commit to a £1 billion ‘childcare fund’, but give little detail. Labour and the Lib Dems have also committed to increasing spending on Sure Start, while the Conservatives make no mention of this.
The way additional spending is used is crucial. As we learnt from the Sure Start expansion, throwing money into programmes and entitlements won’t necessarily yield the desired outcomes.
A focus on quality and evidence-based practice is imperative if we are going to secure the kinds of impact that Professor Jackson tells us is possible.