A massive research study into the impact on children’s
social and cognitive development has concluded that from the age of
three all children benefit from group care, and the most
disadvantaged children benefit the most.
The findings have been welcomed enthusiastically by Sure Start
as proof that the programme really will help children to break out
of the inter-generational poverty cycle.
The study followed 3,000 young children for two years – from
before they entered pre-school provision until they started school
– and will continue for another two years. It included children in
all types of group care including playgroups, nursery classes,
local authority day care centres, private nurseries and integrated
early years centres providing day care with education and support
There was also a group of children in the sample who stayed at
home full time until the day they entered a school reception class
at age five.
All the children who attended pre-school were better prepared
for school than those who stayed at home, both in terms of social
behaviour and cognitive development.
But the integrated child care centres such as early excellence
centres, and nursery schools and classes in the education sector,
had better results than playgroups, private nurseries or day care
centres run, or formerly run, by local authority social services
Children’s home learning environment was also found to be
very important to their development.
The research confirmed that activities such as reading to
children, reciting songs and rhymes, playing with letters and
numbers, painting and drawing and going to the library made a big
The researchers suggest that projects such as Sure Start, which
work with parents and young children in disadvantaged areas, should
do more to encourage parents to read to their children.
In the most effective pre-school settings staff used “sustained
shared thinking” – exchanges between adults and children in which
both are engaged and involved, and which are also instructive for
Trained teachers were the most likely to carry out this, but
where less qualified staff worked alongside qualified teachers,
they did more of it than if they were working alone or with other
less qualified staff.
– Pam Sammons et al, Measuring the Impact of Pre-school
on Children’s Social/ Behavioural Development over the
Pre-school Period, Department for Education and Skills,