Children with a preschool education ‘twice as likely to go onto sixth form’

11 December 2015

  • Study shows continuing effects of early preschool education on Advanced Level studies (AS level entry )
  • Parents who read with their children, teach them numbers or take them on educational visits before they start school also boost their children’s academic achievement levels up to age 18

Children of all backgrounds who receive a preschool education are almost twice as likely to go on to sixth form and sit AS levels, according to new Oxford University research. The findings suggest that far more preschoolers end up taking an academic route into university than peers who had stayed at home when they were under five who did not have the same educational start. In a related study of this sample it was shown that pre-school boosted the chances of bright but disadvantaged children gaining 4 or more AS levels.

Researchers also found, however, that children who did experience stimulating learning activities in the home when they were under five were also more likely to achieve better A-level grades than peers who had not received this support from their parents. From studying parents’ responses when children were in the early years and following these children up through primary and secondary school, researchers found that children did better in sixth form if their parents had engaged in activities such as singing songs and nursery rhymes, teaching the alphabet, reading books together, playing with numbers and letters, or going on visits to the library.

This study, combined with earlier research on the sample, concludes that a preschool education helps to compensate children with fewer educational experiences at home and this effect continues into secondary school, allowing these students to achieve the academic grades needed to progress to sixth form or college. The preschool effect was four times stronger when the provision was identified as highly effective in teaching early number concepts.

Principal investigator from the University of Oxford’s Department of Education Professor Pamela Sammons said:‘Our findings reveal that preschool boosts a child’s chances of doing well at school and going onto to take advanced level examinations. This is important because AS and A-levels are a prerequisite for most university and college courses.

‘Our research also shows that a child’s educational experiences at home when they are under five really matter to their later academic success. Unfortunately, not all children get the same support from their parents and for these pupils, preschool is especially important. Our findings suggest that an investment in preschools pays off, with particular benefits for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.’

Kathy Sylva, Professor of Educational Psychology at Oxford University who also worked on the research, said: ’We think that high quality early education makes the child a more effective learner – not just better at letters and numbers. High quality education turns the child onto learning.’

The findings are the latest in a series of reports to be published as part of the EPPSE (Effective Preschool, Primary and Secondary Education) project, launched in 1997. Funded by the Government’s Department for Education, the longitudinal study has followed 3,000 children from the age of three to 18 years to identify the factors that can predict a child’s academic success, focusing in particular on any continuing effects of a preschool education and a child’s Early Years home environment.

For more information or interviews, contact the University of Oxford News Office on 01865 280534 or email: [email protected]

Notes to Editors:

  • The Effective Preschool and Primary and Secondary Education project (EPPSE) is the first major longitudinal study in Europe to investigate the impact of pre-school provision on a national sample of children. There are five principal investigators: Professor Kathy Sylva and Professor Pam Sammons (both University of Oxford); Professor Ted Melhuish (Oxford and Birkbeck, University of London), Professor Iram Siraj and Brenda Taggart (both Institute of Education). This latest research paper was led by Professor Pam Sammons, Dr Katalin Toth and Professor Kathy Sylva from the University of Oxford.
  • The EPPSE report can be found here:
  • Research was conducted through a nationally representative sample of children in 141 pre-school settings, drawn in 1997 from five English regions (six local authorities). A sample of children who had no or minimal preschool experience were recruited to the study at entry to school for comparison with the preschool group. 
  • EPPSE researchers assessed the children at recruitment to the study to create a profile of each child’s intellectual and social/behavioural development using standardised assessments and reports from the preschool worker who knew the child best. Children were assessed again at entry to school and the children have been followed up in primary school and secondary school, up to age 18. A sample of children who had no preschool experience was also recruited for comparison.
  • In March this year, the researchers published a report funded by the Sutton Trust on a subgroup of children sampled in the EPPSE project from disadvantaged backgrounds. It showed that those identified as bright following Key Stage 2 tests at end of primary school doubled their chance of achieving four or more AS-levels if they had gone to preschool. Earlier research by the same group last year also found evidence of the effects of an early education on the grades achieved at age 16, with those attending a high quality preschool being more likely to achieve five A*-C GCSEs including England and Maths than children who had not gone to any preschool.