A new study suggests that sending your three-year-old child to nursery may not make any difference to their academic results later on
According to research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and Essex and Sussex universities, it actually has little impact on a youngster’s progress in the classroom.
Dr Jo Blanden, of Surrey University, said: “On the face of it, our results cast some doubt over the value for money of universal early education.
“More than 80 per cent of the children taking up free places would probably have gone to nursery anyway, and children’s test scores do not seem to be any higher in the longer term as a result of the policy.”
Researchers believe the main benefit has been to make childcare cheaper for families with young children, while also encouraging mums and dads to go back to work.
In 1998, the Labour government announced that all three and four-year-olds in England would be entitled to 12.5 free hours of early education a week.
Since then £800m has been spent annually on free places.
Studies show that between 1999 and 2007, there was a 50 per cent increase in the proportion of three-year-olds in England benefiting from a free nursery place, rising from 37 per cent to 88 per cent.
Dr Blandon added: “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.”
The report concludes that, while the policy may have encouraged more mothers to go back to work, children’s school outcomes were only slightly better at age five.
Currently as it stands, all three-to-4-year-olds and some disadvantaged two-year-olds in England can get 570 hours of free early education or childcare per year.
This is usually taken as 15 hours each week for 38 weeks of the year.