DfE to spend £5m on early years research
The cost benefits of early education and its impact on children are to be investigated as part of an eight-year research project.
The Department for Education (DfE) will spend £5m on the study, which will track thousands of children from the age of two until they finish their second year of primary school.
NatCen Social Research, the charity 4Children and the consultancy Frontier Economics will carry out the research, which begins in September.
They will start by interviewing parents of the children involved, whose development will be tracked in nurseries, pre-schools, nursery schools and with childminders.
Jane O’Brien, director of children and young people at NatCen Social Research, said although much research on early education for three- and four-year-olds had already been done, little was known about its effect on younger children.
“We know that attending early years education alone isn’t enough to improve outcomes – the quality of the staff and the setting is critical, as is the child’s home learning environment and the type of parenting they receive,” said O’Brien.
“This study looks at all these factors to see what are the long-term effects and benefits of early years education – particularly as it is extended to younger children.”
O’Brien said the research was necessary to inform the DfE’s future spending decisions on early education, particularly as it will have spent more than £1.5bn on free childcare for disadvantaged two-year-olds by 2014/15.
“Very little is known about the long-term cost benefits of early education and how quality and use affect this,” she said.
“To make sure it is getting the best value from this investment, and so that the DfE can inform its policy development and spending decisions in this area, the National Audit Office has highlighted that more needs to be known about the cost benefit and value of early education.”
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association, backed the study.
“The last major study in this area was the Effective Provision of Pre-school Education (EPPE) study which began in 1997,” she said.
“Since 1997, early years education has changed and developed significantly, so we must invest in research to measure the impact of these changes. It is important that future early years policy and investment is informed by what works best for our children.”
Jane Payler, chair of TACTYC, the Association for the Professional Development of Early Years Educators, agreed that fresh research was timely.
“We are pleased to see investment in large-scale early years research, but sorry to see that it does not include the under-twos. Details of the nature of the study will be important,” said Payler.
“We hope that ‘impact’ looks beyond economics to consider long-term as well as short-term outcomes across children’s holistic development and dispositions towards learning, in addition to the quality of children’s, families’ and practitioners’ experiences.”
Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children, said: “There is now an unprecedented political consensus about the importance of the early years and we have the opportunity – with this piece of work – to ensure that future policy and practice is strongly grounded in what works.”