A Pounds 1.4 million Government-funded research project announced this week will identify the characteristics of good pre-school education. It is the first large-scale study of its kind in Britain, and will follow children's progress until they are seven. Professor Kathy Sylva, the head of child development and learning at the University of London's Institute of Education, and her team will "map" the progress of 2,500 children in private and state nurseries, playgroups, daycare and reception classes across the country over the next five years. They will give their conclusions in 2001.
Ministers say that the project will also help to evaluate the nursery voucher scheme, which goes nationwide in April next year.
Schools Minister Robin Squire said: "This study will explore what characteristics of early years education are the most effective in promoting progress. It will trace the effects of pre-school education on children's attainment in primary school and up to their tests at seven. The findings should have a significant impact on how Britain's pre-school education develops well into the new millennium."
There has been little research into the long-term effects of pre-school education. An American study on the HighScope scheme, which showed benefits lasting into adulthood, is one of the few.
Professor Sylva said her team would be looking at curriculum, training and parent involvement and was "committed to working with the local authorities collaboratively". She believed the study would give the key to what constitutes good teaching in the early years of education.
The project will look at the progress of children from different backgrounds and with different pre-school experiences, including those who have no schooling before reception class.