A new report summary from the Institute for Fiscal Studies finds that the impact of early education fades as children go through school.
In England, all four-year-olds have received free part-time early education since 2000; all three-year-olds have received it since 2005; and two-year-olds from low-income families since 2013. Introduction of free services was not immediate and this enabled researchers to measure the impact on child development.
The researchers found that the introduction of free early education for three-year-olds improved their outcomes slightly. Development was assessed at age five using the Foundation Stage Profile and average scores rose from 87.5 to 89.3 (out of a possible 117). These small impacts came mostly from children who would not have attended early education without the free entitlement. If it is assumed that all of the increase comes from these children, then their scores would have risen almost 15 points on the Foundation Stage Profile.
The researchers followed the children to ages seven and 11, when children take further national tests. The estimated impacts of the free education at age seven were very small and by age 11 they had disappeared entirely.
The policy of free early education was introduced because of the EPPE study, which showed that children who received preschool in the late 1990s started school with better cognitive development and that these effects persisted to age 11 and beyond.
The authors of the current study suggested reasons why their results differed from the EPPE study. Free child classes are now often in private, voluntary, and independent settings and these may be of poorer quality. Alternatively, primary schools have changed and improved since the late 1990s and so preschool experience may now matter less.
Source: The impact of free early education for 3 year olds in England (2014), The Institute for Fiscal Studies