School reception classes for four-year-olds can double children's educational attainment, far outstripping the efforts of conventional pre-school nurseries, according to academics at Newcastle University.
Researchers from the Performance Indicators in Primary Schools project (PIPs) found that September-born children who were newly arrived at school were massively behind August-born children who had been in reception class for a full year. The figures will be of keen interest following the unveiling this week of new Government learning targets for four-year-olds.
They have been compiled for this week's BA meeting and next week's European Conference on Educational Research in Bath.
Peter Tymms, director for research at Newcastle, said that the project, which has been running for three years, has found that some school reception classes are up to 40 per cent more effective than others.
After one year of reception class, the pupils had "advanced dramatically in early reading and early numeracy".
The Government was correct to identify early-years' work as an area for progress. But the response should not necessarily be a national curriculum. "I think different people and different schools will be successful in different ways," Mr Tymms told The TES.
The PIPs project is being run with the help of the National Association of Headteachers and covers 200 schools. The researchers will continue to provide regular feedback to schools.
Speaking at the BA meeting, Mr Tymms said that 12 per cent of the difference between children's attainment in science at the top end of primary can be laid at the door of individual schools.
According to a previous study by Mr Tymms, teachers' confidence in their science teaching ability could be one of the crucial factors.