Nursery school leads to better exam results – but 'only for poorer pupils'


Children from better-off homes are unlikely to do better in exams or tests if they attend nurseries, according to an influential study published on Monday. The researchers argue that the findings raise the question of whether subsidised nursery places should be means tested.

The study of 15,500 people born in 1990 shows that nursery schooling had “no statistically significant effect” on the later education of children from advantaged backgrounds, while disadvantaged children did benefit, achieving better results in their national curriculum tests at 11 and their GCSEs.

At GCSE level, their results were found to be 7 per cent better than their peers who did not attend nursery. Their chance of getting an A* to C grade pass in maths and English improved by 4 or 5 per cent.

However, the improvement tails off by the time of A-levels – although the chances of a teenager from a disadvantaged home going to university improves if they have attended nursery.

Nursery education is likely to have a more significant impact on girls’ education than boys’, according to the study, which was led by Professor Ian Walker at Lancaster University Management School. “Girls who went to pre-school significantly score better in all tests at different ages and in all subjects,” the researchers write. “Pre-school attendance seems to be beneficial for girls while the effect on boys’ test scores are generally not significantly different from zero.”

The study also found that children who attended nursery were likely to feel happier during their school days. They were found to put more effort into their schoolwork and appeared to have more friends than those who did not.

They were also less likely to be out of education or employment by the time they reached their 20s, and less likely to smoke, try cannabis or become teenage mothers. “They are also less likely to have been suspended from school or be responsible for vandalism, shoplifting and similar problematic behaviours,” the research concludes.

The positive results were “largely confined” to those from disadvantaged groups, leading the researchers to argue: “The fact that they are strong for those from disadvantaged backgrounds suggests that subsidies should be means-tested rather than universal.”