Free childcare has limited impact on performance, research claims
May 31, 2016
Research released recently found that universal pre-school education for children aged 3 and 4 – which is aimed at improving child outcomes and narrowing attainment gaps – has had a limited impact on performance. The research investigates effects at ages 5, 7 and 11. Whilst a small improvement in outcomes can be detected at age 5, these initial benefits fade “substantially” and, by ages 7 and 11, the impact of the policy is “zero”. This study, conducted by researchers at Essex and Surrey universities, is the first to assess the effectiveness of the universal education pre-school policy.
The study also found that whilst this policy has increased the participation of children from lower socio-economic backgrounds in formal pre-school education, this has not given them any benefit over their more affluent peers. The report suggests that a reason for this is the way the policy is implemented – i.e. paying private providers a fixed amount rather than providing public childcare. It found that only 10-20% of the private providers have qualified teachers and that there is a lack of regulation; this, the report suggests, is something that needs addressing. Overall, the researchers argue that unless high quality settings expand significantly, the expansion of free childcare to 30 hours is unlikely to generate any substantial positive impact on outcomes.