- Authors: Edward Melhuish and Julian Gardiner
- Published by: Department for Education, February 2020
The Study of Early Education and Development (SEED) is conducted by a consortium including the National Centre for Social Research, the University of Oxford, Action for Children and Frontier Economics.
The researchers used data on 3,186 children and their families, collected when children were aged two, three, four and five years old. Of these children, 3,149 had attended formal group early education and childcare, such as nursery, 419 had been looked after by a childminder and 1,686 had experienced informal childcare, such as being looked after by a relative or nanny.
The results showed children who spent more time in formal group childcare, such as nurseries, were more likely to experience a number of poor outcomes during year 1 at school. They displayed more “externalising behaviour” such as aggression, more “internalising behaviour” like anxiety, and less “prosocial behaviour” – positive behaviour that benefits others. They also showed less behavioural self-regulation and less emotional self-regulation. Children who spent more hours in informal childcare were more likely to show small benefits in verbal ability in year 1.
For children from the most disadvantaged families, spending more hours per week with a childminder was associated with poorer Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) scores in reception. However, for children from moderately disadvantaged families, spending more hours with a childminder was associated with better scores. The researchers suggest the most disadvantaged families may be more likely to use poorer quality childminder care.
For children from the least disadvantaged families, the greatest benefits were associated with an early start in formal childcare combined with low to medium use. These children had better numeracy, better sociability and better prosocial behaviour. Children who started childcare between 25 and 36 months and attended for more than 20 hours a week had poorer outcomes for externalising behaviour.
For children from the most disadvantaged families, an early start in formal childcare aged two or younger and high use at more than 20 hours per week had benefits for EYFS outcomes and small benefits for verbal ability. However, a pattern of early start and high use was also associated with poorer outcomes for externalising behaviour and emotional self-regulation. Children who started childcare between 25 and 36 months and attended for more than 20 hours a week showed small benefits in verbal ability, but negative effects on externalising behaviour and emotional self-regulation.
Children who spent on average 15 hours a week in formal group childcare and spent some time with a childminder tended to have better verbal ability in year 1. Children who spent more than 15 hours a week at nursery and did not use a childminder had higher non-verbal ability in year 1 but poorer socio-emotional outcomes and a poorer total EYFS score. Children who spent more than 15 hours a week in nursery and also spent some time with a childminder showed higher verbal ability during year 1 and poorer outcomes for externalising behaviour and emotional self-regulation.
IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE
The study authors say their results indicate possible benefits of an early start in formal childhood education and care, especially for more disadvantaged children. However, there are also potential disadvantages for high use of formal early education and care. They say the addition of some individual care from childminders, friends and relatives might be able to mitigate some of the negative socio-emotional outcomes that children may otherwise experience from high use of formal group care. The authors suggest a greater level of one-to-one interaction may be helpful in building children’s emotional resilience, which could be significant for early years policy going forward if backed by further research.
- Effective Pre-school, Primary and Secondary Education 3-14 Project, Kathy Sylva and others, Department for Education, March 2012
- Study of Early Education and Development (SEED), Edward Melhuish and Julian Gardiner, Department for Education, September 2018
- Early Childcare Type Predicts Children’s Emotional and Behavioural Trajectories into Middle Childhood, Ramchandar Gomajee and others, Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, October 2018