New research : nursery education improves all-round development

High-quality nursery education can help improve children’s performance into secondary school, according to a new research paper.

Pre-school experience enhances all-round development in children and may particularly benefit disadvantaged children, the Scottish Government paper suggests.

The report, Childcare and Children’s Intellectual Outcomes, draws on the findings of three major studies supported by other research work.

It has published the paper 100 days before an expansion in funded pre-school childcare which will see free provision for three and four-year-olds increase from 12.5 hours to almost 16 hours a week from August.

The same entitlement will also be extended to more than a quarter (27%) of the most vulnerable two-year-olds over the next two years.

The paper highlights “strong” evidence that high-quality early childhood education and care is beneficial for children when they start primary school.

It states: “Pre-school experience, compared to none, enhances all-round development in children.

“Children with no pre-school attendance had poorer cognitive attainment, sociability and concentration when they started primary school.”

It found that attending high-quality pre-school has a positive impact on children’s reading and maths abilities at the age of 10, even once background factors have been taken into account.

The paper also highlights international evidence that the benefits of early education and childcare can persist into secondary school.

It points to European research which shows that in most countries, 15-year-old pupils who attended pre-school education programmes tend to perform better than those who have not.

Minister for children and young people Aileen Campbell said: “By improving access to affordable, high-quality early learning and childcare we will deliver many benefits for Scotland, not least – as this research paper highlights – boosting children’s performance all the way through to secondary school.

“That’s why we’re investing in a skilled workforce and working with local authorities and partner providers to ensure that quality remains at the heart of our plans.

“In 100 days, with investment of more than a quarter of a billion pounds over two years, we will take further steps towards our ambition to transform early learning and childcare.

“By doing so in a well-managed, phased and sustainable way, we will support children and families both in their immediate circumstances and for their longer-term aspirations.”

The paper said that starting pre-school under the age of three is related to better intellectual development, but that full-time attendance led to no better gains for children than part-time provision.

It found that disadvantaged children benefit “significantly” from good quality pre-school experiences, especially when they are with a mixture of children from different social backgrounds.

The research also highlights that the home learning environment has a strong influence on children’s development.

Jackie Brock, chief executive of Children in Scotland, said: “This paper is a helpful summary of both the national and international evidence which underpins Children in Scotland’s belief that good quality pre-school care and learning makes a significant contribution to a child’s development.

“This demonstrates, undeniably, that quality early education and care has advantages for every child but is especially important as one measure to eliminate Scotland’s inequalities in educational attainment.”

Early Years Taskforce member and Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said the research shows that nursery education, especially before the age of three, has long-term benefits right through school.