Category Archives: early years learning


Interventions from early childhood onwards can improve character according to new research

Character skills rival IQ


We rely an awful lot on achievement tests in our schools. They are used to sift and sort people, to evaluate schools, and to assess the performance of entire nations (PISA etc). But new research from the States finds that school achievement test scores predict only a small fraction of the variance in later-life success.

For example, adolescent achievement test scores only explain about 15% of the variance in later-life earnings.  So its unlikely that measurement error accounts for most of the remaining variance. Something very fundamental is missing.

A new paper ‘Fostering and Measuring Skills-Interventions that Improve Character and Cognition,’  from the National Bureau of Economic Research’posits that achievement tests do not adequately capture character skills such as conscientiousness perseverance, sociability, and curiosity  despite the fact that character skills are clearly valued in the job market and elsewhere.

Employers, while looking for technical and practical skills, value general communication skills, social skills- evidenced ,for example, in  customer handing,-and teamwork skills. But they often complain that evidence of these skills is  in short supply, in school leavers .Indeed, until recently, these skills and support for them in schools, have largely been ignored.

However, economists and psychologists have constructed credible measures of these skills and provide evidence that they are stable across situations and predict meaningful life outcomes.

What is meant specifically by the term character skills? In this study researchers use the term character skills to describe the personal attributes not thought to be measured by IQ tests or achievement tests. These attributes go by many names in the literature, including soft skills, personality traits, non-cognitive skills, non-cognitive abilities, character, and socio-emotional skills.

Psychologists primarily measure character skills by using self-reported surveys or observer reports. They have arrived at a relatively well-accepted taxonomy of character skills called the Big Five, with the acronym OCEAN, which stands for: Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.

The proposition here is that ‘Skills are not set in stone at birth. They can be improved. Cognitive and character skills change with age and with instruction. Interventions to improve skills are effective to different degrees for different skills at different ages. Importantly, character skills are more malleable at later ages.’  So, the clear message is, on the development of character skills- interventions really can and do help . Character skills also predict later-life outcomes with the same, or greater, strength as measures of cognition.

This paper reviews the recent evidence on the predictive power of cognition and character and, crucially the best available evidence on how to foster them. A growing body of empirical research shows that character skills rival IQ in predicting educational attainment, labour market success, health, and criminality.

The paper says ‘Character is a skill not a trait. It can be enhanced, and there are proven and effective ways to do so. Character is shaped by families and social environments. At any age, character skills are stable across different tasks, but performance on any task depends on multiple skills as well as the effort expended on it. Effort, in turn, depends on the incentives offered to perform the task. Since all measures of character and cognition are measures of performance on some task, it is necessary to standardize for incentives, effort, and other skills in measuring any particular character or cognitive skill. Despite these difficulties, reliable measures of character have been developed, although there is always room for improvement.’

‘Though stable at any age, skills are not set in stone over the life cycle. Both cognitive and character skills can change. Parents, schools, and social environments shape them, although there are important genetic in influences. Skill development is a dynamic process. The early years are important in laying the foundation for successful investment in the later years.’

While there is hard evidence on the importance of the early years in shaping all skills, some character skills are more malleable than cognitive skills at later ages.

‘Fostering and Measuring Skills-Interventions that Improve Character and Cognition-   from the National Bureau of Economic Research’  James J. Heckman, Tim Kautz Working Paper 19656 Cambridge Massachusetts

November 2013


Crisis looms due to funding shortage

A Freedom of Information request revealed that from May 2007, government projections showed a rapidly increasing primary school population in each year from 2009 to 2015.

Despite this, in 2007, Ed Balls then Education Secretary  told councils to remove surplus primary places or risk losing capital funding. Mr Balls issued guidance telling them: ‘The Department has made clear its view that maintaining surplus places represents a poor use of resources – resources that can be used more effectively to support schools in raising standards’. The guidance went on: ‘The Department expects local authorities to make the removal of surplus places a priority’. Local authorities were told they would not receive capital funding if they failed to cut surplus primary school places. ‘Strategies that fail to commit to addressing surplus capacity at local authority or individual school level will not be approved’. The big problem is the baby boom. In 2010, there were four million children in English primary schools; by 2018, there’ll be 4.5 million.  So if Ed Balls blundered, has the Coalition got this covered? No, not really. Although some elements of the education budget were protected, which produced encouraging headlines, there have been swingeing cuts to the capital available for new schools-new schools will be needed to cope with the demand as expanding existing schools is often not possible. And indeed some of the new Free schools are proving to be relatively expensive which also means that this initiative will not have the funding to expand in the way the government would wish (ie there is not enough capital available to fund the demand for Free schools-so bids are being rejected not because they fail to satisfy the criteria-the official stance-  but because there is no money available).  As Jonn Elledge has pointed out in the Guardian the biggest story in education won’t be about academies, or grade inflation, or international league tables: it’ll be about parents petrified they can’t find a school place for their child. The Department for Education’s core resources budget had, of course,  been protected, although there have been allegations that perceived funding shortfalls mean that Heads and governors are dipping in to the Pupil Premium to make up shortfalls . (funding that is supposed to go to disadvantaged pupils).  But its capital budget – the bit that pays for buildings and so forth –  is to fall by 60% over four years. Gove squeezed another £1.2bn out of the Treasury last autumn but nobody thinks that this will be enough to cover the additional Primary places that will be required over the medium term.  The Government may be forced to turn to the private sector for capital , but that is the more expensive option.



We start formal education too young, he  and other experts claim


Dr Richard House of Roehampton University says that the UK has, according to UNICEF, the lowest levels of childhood well-being in the developed world, and some of the highest levels of teenage disaffection and distress. So it’s not surprising there’s fierce debate in the UK about what constitutes good early years practice and care. A book edited by him and published in 2011 ‘Too Much too Young’  provides a collection of essays by childhood experts from around the world who believe that our tendency to over-focus on cognitive development (at the expense of social, emotional and physical development) is the main reason things have gone wrong in the past. At the moment, most English children start school in nursery or reception classes at the age of three or four and are taught using the Early Years Foundation Stage – a compulsory “nappy curriculum”. They then move into formal lessons at the age of five. How young is too young to start your child’s formal education? In France, Scandinavia (Denmark, Sweden Finland) and Russia, children don’t start formal education until they are 7. Finnish pupils start formal education at seven, and when they start school they spend less time in the classroom than most  and then enjoy 11-week summer holidays – and they end up with the highest educational standards in Europe. Apart from the Netherlands and Malta, the only other education systems beginning at five are Scotland and Wales (with Northern Ireland even earlier at four). Our education system does not compare well with   many of those countries who start educating their children much later than we do. There is no evidence that I can find that suggests that the earlier you start  formal education , the  better the  educational outcomes for the child. (Nor does there appear to be a clear link between  more  time spent in the classroom   equals better outcomes)

Dr House believes that when it comes to our youngest children there is too much too soon, with too little genuine play and too much assessment, and that this eroded childhood. The overwhelming conclusion of the book is that the ‘schoolification’ of early years in England has not improved most children’s chances of success in the educational system, and may be doing long-term damage. What  Dr House and some other experts want including such heavyweights as Professor Susan Greenfield, Penelope Leach , and Camilla  Batmanghelidjh (Kids company)   is  the establishment of a genuinely play-based curriculum in nurseries and primary schools up to the age of six, free from the downward pressure of formal learning, tests and targets.  They share a concern  too that our  children are subjected to increasing commercial pressures, and that  they begin formal education far earlier than the European norm ,spending  ever-more time indoors with screen-based technology, rather than in active outdoor activity and play.

Much of the discussion in the book centres on the role of children’s play in early learning – and how far adults should intervene and direct that play. Although there is now widespread agreement that young children’s self-directed play springs from their essential human learning drive, and is vital for every aspect of development and well-being,  House claims that adults without a background in early years tend to see it as mere ‘messing about’ and to look for ways of making it more ‘educational’. The constant refrain of contributors to Too Much Too Soon is that such attempts to accelerate or force development inevitably backfire. Dr House, has presented  his most recent  findings this week  at a major conference in central London .He quoted, according to the Telegraph,  a major US study – carried out over eight decades – that showed children’s “run-away intellect” actually benefited from being slowed down in the early years, allowing them to develop naturally. Many bright children can grow up in an “intellectually unbalanced way”, suffering lifelong negative health effects and even premature death, after being pushed into formal schooling too quickly, he said. when he called on the Government to launch an independent inquiry into England’s school starting age. He said: “The conventional wisdom is that naturally intelligent children should have their intellect fed and stimulated at a young age, so they are not held back.“Yet these new empirical findings strongly suggest that exactly the opposite may well be the case, and that young children’s run-away intellect actually needs to be slowed down in the early years if they are not to risk growing up in an intellectually unbalanced way, with possible life-long negative health effects.”

Earlier this year, a coalition of 50 leading academics, authors and childcare organisations launched a campaign group – Early Childhood Action – to push for an alternative curriculum focused almost entirely on a play-based approach.

Note: Dr  Richard House lectures in psychotherapy at the University of Roehampton. He was a founder of the Open EYE campaign, challenging the statutory nature of EYFS.



Professor Nutbrowns Interim report flags up unnecessary complexity of qualifications and concerns over quality


The Government launched an independent review, led by Professor Cathy Nutbrown, to consider how best to strengthen qualifications and career pathways in the foundation years. Nutbrown has just published her  ‘interim’ report.

Good early years education and care, it is widely acknowledged, and backed by international evidence, can have a profoundly positive impact on babies and young children, reaching into their later childhood and adulthood.

The review looks at qualifications both for young people who are new to the early education and childcare sector, and for those already employed – and also how to promote progression into the labour market, higher level education and other training routes. Professor Nutbrown conducted a large-scale public consultation to gather evidence towards her review. The report of this call for evidence was released alongside her interim report, and can be found via the link below.

The Interim report sets out the shared concerns among the workforce about their qualifications system.

The Review says that ‘Despite the strong evidence on the importance of early education in children’s development, work in early education and childcare is widely seen as low status, low paid, and low skilled. The early years qualifications picture is over-complicated, with significant doubts over whether the content of courses covers the  skills and knowledge that people need to work in the sector.’ The variation in the content of qualifications is significant, and presents real problems to students trying to understand what to study, and employers considering potential applicants for jobs.  And despite the best efforts of the CWDC, it is still not possible to get consistent figures  on the total number of early years qualifications available.

The report concludes that the qualifications currently available do not always equip students to be effective practitioners in the early year’s sector. Nursery staff and childminders are allowed to work at pre-school groups without displaying basic literacy or numeracy skills. Indeed, colleges demand more qualifications for students training to look after animals than for those who will care for babies, the report said.Nurseries are employing staff with no qualifications.

Nutbrown  found that “competence in English and maths” was often not required to complete qualifications. Pupils with the “poorest academic records” were being steered on to childcare courses as an alternative to hairdressing.

Professor Nutbrown is considering the following issues as she develops her recommendations for government:

An effective qualifications structure that motivates people working in the early years and tells employers what skills and knowledge they have.


Courses that prepare people for working in the early years, raise the standards of those choosing to enter the profession, give them the right skills in literacy and numeracy and include the latest cutting edge detail about child development.


The case for expanding the role of teachers in the early years, creating new teaching pathways with an early years specialism, linking more closely the education worlds of the school and the early years.

For further consideration:

How do we ensure that the complex historical, current, and future qualifications picture does not act as a barrier to those  who want to train and learn?

What should be the expectations for the content and agerange for early years qualifications, and the preparation  demanded to achieve them?

Should we seek to raise the minimum level of qualification  required of the workforce, and if so, to what and by when?

What is the best way to ensure that tutors have up-to-date  knowledge and skills and are qualified to the right level?

How can we ensure that settings are supported to play an  effective role in the training of their staff and students on  placement?

What levels of literacy and numeracy should we expect of the early years workforce, and how can we secure these?

How can we best establish clear progression routes for all members of the sector (including black and minority ethnic  groups), and support less well qualified members of the  workforce to progress?

Is there a strong case for introducing an early years initial  teacher education route, and how might the practical  obstacles be addressed?

Is there a case for a licensing system and, if so, what model  might be best?




But questions remain over how to measure its cost effectiveness


‘Providing a Sure Start’, by Naomi Eisenstadt, tells the story of Sure Start, one of the flagship programmes of the last government. It tells how Sure Start was set up, the numerous changes it went through, and how it has changed the landscape of services for all young children in England.  It offers insight into the key debates on services for young children, as well as how decisions are made in a highly political context. Eisenstadt is a senior research fellow at the University of Oxford who ran the Sure Start Unit for its first seven years. She has extensive experience, both working directly with children and families and at the most senior levels in Government. Her last post before retirement was Director of the Social Exclusion Task Force in the Cabinet Office. Though clearly a fan of Sure Start she acknowledged that some mistakes have been made. She writes ‘The biggest mistake was not understanding the complexities of running a Sure Start local programme. Joining up local services across health, education and social welfare, commissioning a major capital project, working collaboratively with local parents, understanding the critical nature of data about the local population were all critically important factors in running a successful programme. However, often the individuals who had these skills knew little about young children and came from other career backgrounds. The early years workforce was then low skill, low paid and low status. People worked incredibly hard but we did not build a professional development programme to support this new workforce.  The second big mistake, aligned to the first, was that we vastly underestimated how long it would take to establish the services. Most of the programmes spent huge amounts of time in the first year just commissioning construction work. It took about 3 years to get a programme up and running while there was an expectation of improved outcomes within months. It is now clear that some of the disappointing results of the first outcome study were because very little was actually happening.  The disappointments were about the failure to deliver any real cognitive gains for children. Yet the social and economic gains for parents were substantial, and in time these improvements for parents may deliver the longer-term improvements in the life courses for children.’ Eisenstadt believes that, overall, the substantial success of the Sure Start scheme has been that the argument about the role government should play between birth and school is now won.  She writes ‘We never did a randomised control trial to prove that children benefited from school. We no longer need to deliver more evidence that the pre-school years are vital to children’s development, and that provision of services for young children and families is critically important.’ The debate on what those services should be, delivered by whom, aimed at parents or children, and at what age group care should start will run and run. However, she claims, the acceptance that there should be provision for such services, and that government has a role in regulating and at least partly funding this, is now firmly in place. However what she  largely fails to  address, head on, is  the accountability issues and value for money provided by the programme. The National Audit Office, in 2010, pointed out that given the diversity in how local Sure Start Services are delivered it is extremely difficult to work out whether or not they are cost –effective and they were not able to determine whether one particular delivery model was more efficient than another . The NAO stated ‘though the potential benefits of benchmarking  are widely recognised  our survey of children’s centres confirmed that only limited information was available’ Given the amount of public money invested in this scheme over many years (billions) this is surely  unacceptable .




Raises women’s attainment


A new study by Professor Andy Green and Dr Tarek Mostafa of the Institute of Education, University of London, confirms that early-years education raises attainment levels and opens employment doors for many women.

The researchers analysed education and employment data for 16 countries, including the UK, and calculated that, on average, a 10 per cent increase in pre-school education attendance leads to a 6 per cent rise in female employment.

However, the study’s authors challenge the idea that pre-school education narrows the social-class divide in achievement at secondary school. “There is little evidence that inequalities in educational outcomes at 15 have reduced, even in countries where there are high levels of participation in pre-school programmes,” they  told  the European Conference on Educational Research in Berlin last month  . “Moreover, the effects seem to vary across countries. This may be partly because the quality of provision accessed by different social groups is not consistent.” Green and Mostafa acknowledge that previous research – some based on evidence gathered by the UK’s Millennium Cohort Study – has shown that attending high-quality early-years programmes can result in significant cognitive gains. The benefits tend to be greatest in centres that integrate care and learning and where teachers are well-qualified.  The IOE researchers also note that the international PISA surveys of 15-year-olds conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development have underlined the importance of pre-school education. In all of the 34 countries surveyed by the OECD, pupils who attended pre-primary education for more than one year out-performed those who did not. Nevertheless, as Green and Mostafa point out, OECD surveys also show that disadvantaged and advantaged pupils usually benefit equally from pre-school education. Furthermore, children from higher social-class backgrounds are more likely to receive pre-school education than youngsters from poor and immigrant families — even in Scandinavia.


“Pre-school education and care – a ‘win-win’ policy?” was presented on 16 September  at the ECER conference in the Freie Universität Berlin. Professor Green is director of the Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies (LLAKES), which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. Dr Mostafa is a research officer at the centre.


The paper by Professor Green and Dr Mostafa analyses economic, employment and education data on the following countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the USA. The researchers also compared pre-school participation rates and educational outcomes in 33 countries.



Longer term outcomes questioned

What lessons for Sure Start?


Since its beginning, in 1965, as a part of the US War on Poverty, Head Start’s goal has been to boost the school readiness of low-income children. Based on a “whole child” model, the programme provides comprehensive services that include preschool education; medical, dental, and mental health care; nutrition services; and efforts to help parents foster their child’s development. Our own Sure Start programme is modelled on Head Start.  Head Start services are designed to be responsive to each child’s and family’s ethnic, cultural, and linguistic heritage.  So Head Start has the ambitious mandate of improving educational and developmental outcomes for children from economically disadvantaged families.  Its mandate requires that ‘it meet the needs of the whole child, including the cognitive, social-emotional, and health needs of children, and positively influence the parenting practices of their parents.’

The Head Start Impact Study (2010) examined the impacts of Head Start on these four domains. So, how effective has the programme been?  The study showed that providing access to Head Start ‘led to improvements in the quality of the early childhood settings and programs children experienced.  On nearly every measure of quality traditionally used in early childhood research, the Head Start group had more positive experiences than those in the control group.’  These impacts on children’s experiences translated into favourable impacts at the end of one year in the domains of children’s cognitive development and health, as well as in parenting practices.  There were more significant findings across the measures within these domains for 3- year-olds in that first year (and only the 3-year-old cohort experienced improvements in the social-emotional domain.)  So returns were positive.

But, and here is the catch, the report found that ‘by the end of 1st grade, there were few significant differences between the Head Start group as a whole and the control group as a whole for either cohort’ And ‘the advantages children gained during their Head Start and age 4 years yielded only a few statistically significant differences in outcomes at the end of 1st grade for the sample as a whole.  Impacts at the end of kindergarten were scattered ‘  So a programme going for 45 years attracting billions of dollars of investment to encourage early interventions in deprived communities has some initial impact but very little it appears  after  an initial period.  The idea behind Head Start was sound. You take a million or so of the poorest 3 and 4 year olds and through targeted interventions you give them support and a leg up on socialisation and early years education. If it works then it saves money in the long term by producing fewer criminals and welfare recipients and more employable, productive and engaged citizens.

There is plenty of international evidence that high quality early interventions are important. Importantly the Head Start pilots run by motivated professionals in the 1960s delivered encouraging results which was why the programme was rolled out nationally, albeit against opposition from conservatives. So why did Head Start graduates perform about the same as pupils of similar income and social status who were not part of the programme? Basically because something went wrong as, using the jargon, it was “taken to scale”  Indeed, the results were sufficiently shocking that the Department of Health and Human Services sat on them for several years probably because they were trying to work out ways by re-running the data to spin it more positively.

To look at why it failed to live up to expectations you have to look at the delivery systems and processes on the ground. Remember this started as a War against Poverty rather than as a Federal Education programme (which is why it was not run by the federal Department of Education) . It sought to rebuild communities from the bottom up, through local agencies called community action programmes. Some were inefficient and most of these  were controlled by ambitious local politicians dispensing funds and local  patronage .As the journalist Joe Klein (Time) observed ‘they are far more adept at dispensing work jobs than mastering the subtle nuances of early education’. An Obama administration official told Klein “The argument that Head Start opponents make is that it’s a jobs program and, sadly, there is something in that”.

Does this have any lessons for us? There are two.

First that however good a pilot is it doesn’t necessarily up-scale well and projects therefore have to be constantly evaluated. Secondly, as Head Start informed the development of Sure Start here, we should therefore be much more vigilant, particularly given the billions invested in Sure Start, in measuring the effectiveness of the programme which depends on local partnerships for its delivery, partnerships which are often less than transparent, as the National Audit Office has found out, in measuring their effectiveness and outcomes. The NAO in a 2006 report found that over half (56 per cent) of the local authorities consulted were not monitoring the performance of  Sure Start centres and a similar number (52 per cent) were doing no work to identify the cost or cost-effectiveness of services. A follow up report in 2009 found that not much had changed in terms of benchmarking performance of Sure Start Centres. Initial evaluations found too that the programme, though clearly benefiting some families, they were often not the poorest families. Sure Start should be subject to much greater scrutiny and accountability than is currently the case.

Head Start Impact Study; Final Report; Executive Summary; January 2010

Prepared for: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation; Administration for Children and Families U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Washington, D.C.


Will getting more pupils into university improve social mobility

Professor Peter Saunders and some myths about social mobility


The benefits of the rapid expansion of higher  education were supposed to be obvious and  particularly the assumption that if you get more pupils into university they will get higher level qualifications which in turn will give them access to good jobs in the professions  and social mobility will increase . So far so virtuous. Yet despite the rapid expansion in university places over the last generation and many more graduates in the job market, report after report suggests that social mobility has actually stalled.   The evidence on social mobility is complex and sometimes contradictory. But as the Social Mobility report released a couple of  weeks ago  says ‘the broad picture is fairly clear. We currently have relatively low levels of social mobility, both by international standards and compared with the ‘baby boomer’ generation  born in the immediate post-war period’. Evidence actually suggests  that it is early  interventions that have the most effect on social mobility, and the earlier the better. If you try to engineer mobility at the university level you are basically too late.

Professor Peter Saunders  pointed out in the 2010  Civitas publication ‘Social Mobility Myths’  that educational qualifications have become what economists call ‘positional goods’. A ‘positional good’ is one whose utility declines, the more people gain access to it. When only 5 per cent of the population had university degrees, for example, a degree was a powerful passport to career success. But when almost half of the population goes to university, a degree becomes commonplace. You may be disadvantaged if you do not have one, but the advantages of being a graduate are severely dissipated. (which may go some way to explaining why 20% of new graduates are unemployed) .– ‘Simply increasing the number of graduates, or the number of people passing A‐levels, or the number of 16 year‐olds staying on at school, or the number of training places on vocational courses, will therefore achieve little in the way of increasing people’s chances of getting a high income or a middle class job. All it will do is devalue the qualifications and trigger a diploma race as people chase ever‐higher qualifications in order to distinguish themselves from the mass of other potential applicants’.  So Ministers might argue that making it easier for disadvantaged pupils to access university is a good in itself but can they argue that it will improve social mobility given that the expansion of HE appears not to have affected social mobility ? Professor Saunders is clear on this “The average educational standard of the population may or may not have improved as a result of all this expansion, but what seems certain, is that there has been no significant impact on relative social mobility’

Professor Saunders specifically attacks:

the preoccupation with expanding entry into higher education, even at the expense of academic standards;

the ‘grade inflation’ unleashed by pushing ever-increasing numbers of pupils through GCSEs and A-levels;

the attempt by government to create more middle class jobs (mainly by expanding the size of the public sector);

moves towards ‘positive discrimination’ in university selection designed to make it harder for bright, middle class applicants to get accepted;

the fallacious belief that flattening the income distribution through higher taxes and more generous welfare benefits will promote mobility.

One of the biggest myths he claims is that governments can increase mobility by top-down engineering of the education system and forcing more income redistribution.

Saunders also argues, by the way, that social mobility is much better than we let on and evidence strongly suggests  bright working class pupils, whatever the perceived obstacles,  tend to be  socially mobile.



Focus on the most disadvantaged


In keeping with the their focus on the most disadvantaged pupils and the  belief that good quality early education helps tackle disadvantage and improve children’s life chances,  the  Government has  continued the policy of the Labour  Government   in guaranteeing  that all three and four-year-olds to receive 15 hours per week of free nursery education

. This will be extended to every disadvantaged two-year-old from 2013.  In terms of the funding early education Places for disadvantaged Two-Year-Olds- the Department will provide £64 million/£223 million/£331 million/£380 million over the next four years. For the first two years of the spending period, this funding will be routed through the Early Intervention Grant. The Government has introduced an Early Intervention Grant which is un-ring-fenced and un-hypothecated funding stream which, from 1 April 2011, will give local authorities greater flexibility to target resources strategically and intervene early to improve outcomes for children, young people and families. The Government have ensured there is enough money within the Early Intervention Grant to maintain the  network of Sure Start Children’s Centres, accessible to all but identifying and supporting families in greatest need. To date only the EIG funding for the financial years 2011-12 and 2012-13 has been announced and is only available by local authority-the  figures local authorities in England are available at:

Local authorities have a statutory duty—under section 7 of the Childcare Act—to secure nursery places free of charge, effectively prohibiting top-up fees. This ensures that there are no barriers to accessing the benefits of nursery education for all children, but particularly the most disadvantaged. Parents are free to purchase additional hours and services outside of the hours for which providers receive funding from local authorities.

The Government are seeking to improve the efficiency with which funding is distributed to providers, through the Early Years Single Funding Formula (EYSFF) reforms, as well as reducing bureaucratic burdens on providers who deliver free nursery education. Many providers will also be benefiting from other support that local authorities provide for early learning and care. Providers will want to take into account this whole package of support before deciding whether delivering free places fits with their business model.

Sure Start children’s centres are a clear priority for Government- as they are seen as playing an important role in supporting families with young children and intervening early to prevent problems from becoming crises. Sure Start Children’s Centres funding in 2010-11 was £1.1 billion.  The Government believe that they have ensured there is enough money in the system to maintain a network of Sure Start children’s centres accessible to all but targeting the families in greatest need. Again the Government believe that it is the job of local authorities, in consultation with local communities to determine the most effective way of delivering future services to meet local need. They have a duty to consult before opening, closing or significantly changing children’s centres and to secure sufficient centre provision to meet local need so far as is reasonably practical. However a long standing problem is  measuring the effectiveness of Sure Start Centres, and the value they add.

Note: Pupil Premium: The Government is also introducing for the disadvantaged a  deprivation pupil premium for 2011-12  which will be allocated to local authorities and schools with pupils that are known to be eligible for free school meals as recorded on the January 2011 school census, pupil referral unit census and alternative provision census. Each pupil known to be eligible for free school meals will attract £430 of funding which will go to the school or academy, via the local authority or YPLA if the pupil is in a mainstream setting, or will be managed by the responsible local authority if the pupil is in a non-mainstream setting. The Government aim to extend the coverage of the pupil premium from 2012-13 onwards to pupils who have previously been known to be eligible for free school meals.



Invest early in education of the disadvantaged and the investment reaps educational and social returns


The Jesuits maxim -  give me a child for  his first seven years and I’ll give you the man- has a certain resonance,  and there now seems to be a growing evidence led  consensus that high quality early interventions   can help, particularly disadvantaged pupils, to improve their outcomes.  Professor James Heckman of Chicago University  claims that there is very clear empirical evidence that investment in early years education  promotes equity ie fairness and economic efficiency. He and colleagues have examined many studies concerning early investment in education and its impact on adult outcomes. He concludes firstly that inequalities in early childhood experiences  produces inequality in ability achievement, health and adult health. He adds ‘while important cognitive abilities alone are not as powerful as a package of cognitive skills and social skills-defined as attentiveness perseverance, impulse, control and sociability.’

Very significantly, he found that ‘adverse impacts of genetic, parental and environmental resources can be overturned  through investments in quality early childhood  that provide children and their parents with  the resources they need to properly develop the cognitive and personality skills that create  productivity’.

Finally  investments in early education for disadvantaged children  from birth to five helps reduce the achievement gap , reduces the need for special education , increases the likelihood of healthier lifestyles,  reduces crime rates  and  lowers social costs.  ‘In fact every dollar invested in high quality early childhood education produces a 7 to 10% return on investment.  Professor Heckman says that ‘Policies that provide early childhood educational resources to the most disadvantaged children produce greater social and economic equity. We can create a level and more productive playing field by making wise and timely investments in education’.   The Economics of Inequality-James  Heckman , Professor of Economics, University of Chicago