Free nursery places not delivering long-term benefits, says research

Free nursery places not delivering long-term benefits, says research

A study, collated from research data gathered by three universities, reveals free part-time nursery places for three-year-olds in England has not created any sustained educational benefits for children.

Researched collaboratively between the University of Surrey, University of Essex and the Institute of Education, the report studied children in early education from 2002 to 2007 in England. Researchers focused on the local availability of free places for three-year-olds and how this related to their educational attainment at ages five, seven and 11.

Senior lecturer in Economics at the University of Surrey, Dr Jo Blanden, said: “While previous research has suggested that early education is key to long term attainment, our research has shown that the free entitlement did not deliver the anticipated gains.”

Evidence revealed that providing free placements for three-year-olds did not encourage a large increase in enrolment. “The estimated coefficient shows that 2.4 genuinely new places were created for every 10 places that were funded.” states the report.

Although researchers expected to find children from lower socio-economic backgrounds mostly benefiting from free childcare availability, the report found that there was no strong evidence to suggest that “children from poorer backgrounds entered formal childcare more as a result of the policy”. It also found little to suggest that free childcare was helping to close the attainment gap between poorer children and their richer counterparts.

Senior research fellow at the Institute for Economic and Social Research at the University of Essex, Dr Birgitta Rabe, said: “It is tempting to say that the money would have been better spent on the poorest children. However, the policy’s universalism may have benefits if it encourages greater take-up of provision among children from more disadvantaged backgrounds or if it mixes children from different backgrounds in the same early education settings.”

Findings have been delivered to the House of Lords to further discuss free entitlement to childcare in a policy debate.