In 1997, the Effective Pre-School, Primary and Secondary Education project (EPPSE) was instigated as the UK’s first major study to focus on the effectiveness of early years education.
More than 3,000 children were assessed at approximately age 3 – both those starting pre-school and others who were not going to pre-school. Their development was then monitored as they entered school, right through until they made their post-16 education, training or employment choices.
The study found that pre-school enhanced children’s cognitive and social development. Ultimately, results showed that children who attended early years gained better GCSE grades (equivalent to National 5).
However, children made more progress if the quality of the setting was good, and one of the main indicators of quality was the qualifications of staff. “Having qualified, trained teachers working with children in pre-school settings (for a substantial proportion of time, and most importantly as the pedagogical leader) had the greatest impact on quality…” according to a report summarising the research findings.
But the study also found that while attending pre-school was beneficial, full-time attendance led to no better gains than part-time provision.
According to the Education Endowment Foundation, which has created a toolkit so schools can assess the impact of different interventions on pupil achievement, investing in the early years is beneficial but expensive.
“Once early years provision is in place, efforts to improve the quality of provision, for example, by training staff, appear to be more promising than simply increasing the quantity,” the EEF said.