Exclusive: Children with nursery education get better GCSEs

Boost from pre-school education is equivalent to gaining seven B grades at GCSE rather than seven C grades

Children who attend nursery or pre-school go on to achieve significantly better GCSE results than those who are kept at home before school age, a major study has found.

The boost from pre-school education is equivalent to gaining seven B grades at GCSE rather than seven C grades. Children who go to pre-school also develop better literacy, behaviour and concentration as teenagers, and can earn an extra £27,000  over their working lives, the research found.

“There is an enduring effect of pre-school. Attendance, quality and duration at pre-school all show long-term effects on students’ academic outcomes,” concluded a major longitudinal study, The Effective Pre-school, Primary and Secondary Education (EPPSE) project, which has tracked more than 3,000 youngsters since 1997.

The findings, revealed exclusively by The Independent, show that the younger pupils were when they started pre-school – and the longer they attended – the stronger the boost to GCSE results.

However, it did not matter whether children attended pre-school full time or part time as the eventual gains were the same. The quality of pre-school also predicted the children’s GCSE results. Those who had attended high quality facilities were more likely to achieve 5 A*-C including English and maths, and were also likely to show better behaviour and lower levels of hyperactivity.

The study also showed a particularly strong effect on boys’ maths results. Boys who attend a high quality pre-school obtained significantly higher grades in GCSE maths than either those who attended lower quality pre-school or none at all.

The Effective Pre-school and Primary Education project (EPPE) was the first major longitudinal study in Europe to investigate the impact of pre-school provision on a national sample.

It has already reported the positive effect of attending pre-school on pupils aged seven, 11 and 14. Today’s findings confirm that the positive effect continued as far as GCSE. Sam Gyimah, the childcare minister, told The Independent that the Government’s commitment to early years education was helping to “level the playing field” between rich and poor.

He said: “The research shows that our current policy position is supported by the evidence rather than being an ideological crusade. Today we have universal provision of pre-school for three and four year olds and we are one of only 10 OECD countries where over 90 per cent of three and four year olds go to pre-school.

“We’ve also now got 40 per cent of two year olds entitled to 15 hours of free childcare. We have to do more of all of this if we really want to improve social mobility. Improving social mobility means you can’t have children behind at school when they arrive for the first time.”

Neil Leitch, chief executive, Pre-school Learning Alliance, welcomed the findings but said: “At a time when childcare policy is largely focused on helping parents return to work, this study is a timely reminder of the significant impact that early years provision has on children’s long-term learning and development.”