Does school entry age matter?

In the UK, children usually start primary school in the academic year in which they turn five. However, because entry rules vary across local authorities, some schools may defer entry for children born later in the year until the second or third term.

A new study at University College London looks at what impact an earlier versus later entry into Reception has on pupils’ cognitive and non-cognitive skills up until age 11 (their final year of primary school).

Christian Dustmann and Thomas Cornelissen analysed information on more than 400,000 children born in 2000-01 who attended state schools in England and whose records are included in the National Pupil Database. This was combined with information on more than 7,000 children born in 2000-01 who took part in the Millennium Cohort study.

The researchers found that receiving an extra month of schooling before age five increases test scores in language and numeracy at ages five and seven by about 6–11%. But by age 11, the effects on test scores have largely disappeared. For boys from low socioeconomic backgrounds, the benefits of an earlier school entry are even greater. An additional term of schooling before age five reduces the achievement gap between boys from low and high socioeconomic backgrounds at age seven by 60-80%.

Source: Early school exposure, test scores, and noncognitive outcomes (March 2019), CReAM Discussion Paper Series CDP 03/19, Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration

Professional development and early childhood education and care

A meta-analysis published in Review of Educational Research summarises findings from studies that evaluated the effects of in-service training for early childhood teachers on the quality of early childhood education and care (ECEC) and child outcomes. Overall, data from 36 studies with 2,891 teachers was included in the analysis. For studies to qualify, child care quality had to be measured externally with certified raters at the classroom level.

The analysis, carried out by Franziska Egert and colleagues, revealed that at the teacher level, in-service training had a positive effect on the quality of ECEC, with an effect size of +0.68. Furthermore, a subset of nine studies (including 486 teachers and 4,504 children) that provided data on both quality ratings and child development were analysed, and they showed a small effect at the child level (effect size = + 0.14) and a medium effect at the corresponding classroom level (effect size = +0.45).

Source: Impact of In-Service Professional Development Programs for Early Childhood Teachers on Quality Ratings and Child Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis, Review of Educational Research, 88:3 401 – 433.

Reform needed for early years initiative

As part of their Straight Talk on Evidence initiative, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) has released a report that discusses new findings from a randomised controlled trial (RCT) of Tennessee’s voluntary pre-kindergarten programme for low-income children.

The Voluntary Pre-K (VPK) initiative provides Tennessee’s four-year-old children—with an emphasis on four year olds who are at-risk—an opportunity to develop school readiness skills (pre-academic and social skills). The study randomly assigned 3,131 eligible children who applied for admission at one of 79 oversubscribed VPK programmes across the state to either a programme group that was offered admission or a control group that was not (but could access other available child and family services in the community). Pupil achievement and other outcomes were measured in third grade (Year 4) using state educational records.

According to the LJAF report, the study found positive short-term effects on achievement (at the end of the pre-k year), but these effects dissipated as children entered elementary (primary) school and turned modestly negative by third grade (Year 4). At the third-grade follow-up, the control group scored significantly higher in maths and science achievement than the pre-k group.

The report offers possible reasons for the adverse effects, and suggests that the programme be reformed by incorporating evidence-based funding criteria aimed at improving its effectiveness over time.

Source: Large randomized trial finds state pre-k program has adverse effects on academic achievement. Reform is needed to increase effectiveness. Straight Talk on Evidence, The Laura and John Arnold Foundation

The impact of professional development in early childhood education

Franziska Egert and colleagues in Germany and Amsterdam have conducted a review of the effects of professional development (PD) for early childhood educators on programme quality and children’s educational outcomes.

Studies were only included if they addressed quality of child care or child development, included early childhood teachers (including preschool, kindergarten and centre-based care), were quantitative, were experimental or quasi-experimental, reported effect sizes or data and addressed children 0–7 years old. This yielded 36 studies of 42 programmes evaluating quality ratings, and nine studies of 10 programmes evaluating both quality ratings and pupil outcomes.

Results showed that professional development improved the external quality ratings (as evaluated using the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, Early Language and Literacy Classroom Observation, Environmental Rating Scales and Individualized Classroom Assessment Scoring System) of early childhood education (effect size=+0.68), with programmes providing 45–60 PD hours having the greatest impact on classroom practice as compared to programmes offering fewer or more hours. This was true regardless of whether teachers held a university degree or not. Further, programmes that solely used coaching were almost three times as effective as other programmes. A second meta-analysis of a subset of studies (n=486 teachers, 4,504 children) showed that improvement in the quality of early childhood education programmes was correlated with improvements in child development (effect size=+0.14) as determined by language and literacy scores, maths scores, social-behavioural ratings, and assessment of cognition, knowledge and school readiness.

Source: Impact of in-service professional development programs for early childhood teachers on quality ratings and child outcomes: a meta-analysis (January 2018), Review of Educational Research, Vol 88, Issue 3

The evidence on state-funded preschool

The evidence of the effects of state-funded pre-kindergarten (preschool) programmes in the US was recently reviewed by a task force of scientists from the Brookings Institute and Duke University. These findings were released in a report called “The Current State of Scientific Knowledge on Pre-Kindergarten Effects”. Following the evidence review, the task force released a consensus statement outlining conclusions and recommendations about the effects of state-funded pre-kindergarten. According to the report:

  1. Greatest improvements at the end of the pre-kindergarten year are more often found for pupils from low-SES backgrounds or who are dual language learners than for their higher-SES and English-proficient peers.
  2. Not all pre-k programmes are equally effective, and this may be influenced by several factors. Positive influences include using evidence-based programmes that are well-implemented; utilising ongoing professional development and coaching for teachers; and promoting classrooms with predictable routines and positive, supportive pupil-teacher relationships.
  3. Pre-k environments are most effective when pupils’ individual abilities, knowledge and backgrounds are considered, and teaching strategies and content accordingly adjusted.
  4. Children who attend pre-k demonstrate more school readiness at the end of the year than those who do not, especially in the areas of literacy and numeracy.
  5. Long-term effects of pre-k in the later elementary (primary)years are inconclusive.
  6. More complete and reliable evidence is needed, during and after pre-k programmes, to create and sustain pre-kindergartners’ long-term gains.

The full report goes into more detail about the consensus statements, and discusses the results of the evidence with regards to funding, policy and other considerations.

Source: Puzzling it out: The current state of scientific knowledge on pre-kindergarten effects: A consensus statement (April 2017), Duke Center for Child and Family Policy, The Brookings Institution

The impact of more teachers and smaller classes in the early years

What difference do smaller class sizes, and more teachers, make in early childhood education (ECE)?

A meta-analysis by Jocelyn Bowne and colleagues, published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, attempts to find some answers. The analysis included evaluations of ECE programs in the US between 1960 and 2007. The evaluations were either experimental studies, used a high-quality quasi-experimental design, or showed baseline equivalence of treatment and control participants. In total, 38 studies were included, all of which looked at children ages 3 to 5 years old attending an ECE center for 10 hours a week or more for at least 4 months. Child-teacher ratios ranged from 5:1 to 15:1 and class sizes from 11 to 25.

The findings were as follows:

  • Above a child–teacher ratio of 7.5:1, changing the ratio had no effect on children’s cognitive and achievement outcomes. Below this, a reduction of the ratio by one child per teacher predicted an effect size of +0.22.
  • For class sizes greater than 15, increasing the size of the class had little effect on children’s cognitive and achievement outcomes. Below this, one child fewer in the class size predicted an effect size of +0.10.

The authors caution that these findings are correlational, rather than causal, so changing class sizes or ratios, certainly at scale, may not lead to these results. However, they conclude that “very small and/or well-staffed classrooms might confer some small benefits for children’s cognitive and academic learning”.

Source: A meta-analysis of class sizes and ratios in early childhood education programs: Are thresholds of quality associated with greater impacts on cognitive, achievement, and socioemotional outcomes? (February 2017), Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Vol 39, Issue 3