Children of all backgrounds who receive a preschool education are almost twice as likely to go on to sit AS-levels, according to a study by Oxford University.
The research, funded by the government’s department for education, also found that children who go to preschool were significantly more likely to take four or more AS-levels, suggesting that far more preschoolers end up taking an academic route into university than those who do not have the same educational start.
Preschool, also known as nursery school, refers to an educational establishment that offers early education to under-fives prior to the start of primary school.
Children who experience stimulated learning activities at home – such as singing and nursery rhymes, learning the alphabet, reading, playing with numbers and letters, or going on visits to the library – when they are under five are also more likely to achieve better A-level grades, researchers found.
The study is the latest report to be published as part of the EPPSE (effective preschool, primary and secondary education) project, launched in 1997. It followed 3,000 children from the age of three to 18 to identify the factors that can predict a child’s academic success, particularly the effects of a preschool education and a child’s early years home environment.
Pamela Sammons, principal investigator at Oxford’s education department, said: “Our findings reveal that preschool boosts a child’s chances of doing well at school and going on to take advanced level examinations. This is important because AS- and A-levels are a prerequisite for most university and college courses.
“Our research also shows that a child’s educational experience at home when they are under five really matters to their later academic success. Unfortunately, not all children get the same support from their parents and for these pupils, preschool is especially important. Our findings prove that an investment in preschools pays off, with particular benefits for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.”
Kathy Sylva, professor of educational psychology at Oxford, who also worked on the research, added: “We think that high-quality early education makes the child a more effective learner – not just better at letters and numbers. High-quality education turns the child on to learning.”
The findings come after an influential Conservative pressure group said parents should be denied child benefit if they did not send their children to pre-school education from the age of three.
Bright Blue said its proposals were designed to ensure disadvantaged children received pre-school education to prepare them for school. It argued that just as the government was planning to withdraw child benefit from parents of truanting children, the same disincentives should apply to parents who did not take up the opportunity of free pre-school education.
Ministers said they were doubling free preschool childcare or education to 30 hours a week. A survey last year by a children’s charity found that many Sure Start centres face closure because of budget cuts, with £830m less being spent on them in the three years from 2011-12.[“source-theguardian”]