Helping children prepare to succeed

Child Trends has released a new research brief on school readiness that aims to answer the question: Will children be ready to succeed in school, and how best can we support their success? The information is based on the work of Child Trends with US state policy makers and a review of existing literature on the topic. They offer the following five “things to know”:

  1. School readiness is a puzzle with multiple pieces, and families, communities, and schools all share responsibility in putting the pieces together to support children’s success in school.
  2. There are five areas of skills and development that will help young children be ready to succeed in school. These are health and physical development, social and emotional development, language and communication, approaches to learning, and cognitive development and general knowledge.
  3. It is especially important to think about high-quality early childhood experiences for children at risk of later difficulties in school. Research has shown that children from low-income families benefit from high-quality early care and education.
  4. School readiness starts at birth. Children’s early experiences, particularly from birth to age five, are critical to their brain development and lifelong health.
  5. School readiness assessment should have a clear purpose and be comprehensive.

Words taught in context boost children’s language

Children vary greatly in the number of words they know when they enter school, and this is a major factor influencing their subsequent school and workplace success. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that contextualised speech input from parents during the second year of children’s lives correlated with the size of their vocabularies three years later.

The researchers asked 218 adult participants to guess 50 parents’ words from muted videos of their interactions with their 14- to 18-month-old children. They found systematic differences in how easily individual parents’ words could be identified purely from this socio-visual context. For example, it is easier for children to acquire the meaning of “zebra” in the visual presence of a zebra (“There goes a zebra!”) than in its absence (“Let’s visit the zebras in the zoo”). Moreover, differences in this kind of input quality correlated with the size of the children’s vocabulary three years later.

It is already known that the quantity of words that children hear is an important determinant of their subsequent vocabularies, both for types (different words) and tokens (number of words heard, including repetitions). These quantity differences are correlated with socio-economic status (SES), with children from low-SES homes typically exposed to fewer words early in development. In this research, although the quantity of words differed as a function of SES, input quality did not. The authors suggest that the quality of nonverbal cues to word meaning that parents offer to their children is an individual matter, widely distributed across the population of parents.

Source: Quality of Early Parent Input Predicts Child Vocabulary 3 Years Later (2013), Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 110(28).

Early years pilot shows few benefits for five-year-olds

A new study of the Early Education Pilot for two-year-old children has shown that overall it did not lead to improvement by age five.

The Early Education Pilot provided 7.5 hours of preschool education each week to more than 13,500 two-year-olds between 2006 and 2008. A previous study had shown that, compared with a comparison group, it did not improve the cognitive and social development of the children unless they were in better-quality settings. This new study supports that conclusion. Overall, the children scored no better than their peers in the Early Years Foundation Stage assessments at age four to five. However, although the numbers were small, and therefore not statistically significant, those children who attended higher-quality settings again scored better than those who were in low- or adequate-quality settings.

From September 2013, 130,000 two-year-olds from lower income families will be able to access 15 hours of early education a week, rising to 260,000 two-year-olds in England from September 2014. However, the terms of this new funding are not directly comparable with the Early Education Pilot.

Source: The Early Education Pilot for Two Year Old Children: Age Five Follow-up (2013), Department for Education.

Evaluation of children’s centres in England

The Evaluation of Children’s Centres in England (ECCE) is a six year study, commissioned by the Department for Education and undertaken by NatCen Social Research, the University of Oxford and Frontier Economics, that aims to provide an in-depth understanding of children’s centre services, their effectiveness and cost efficiency in delivering different types of services. In this first report from the study, children’s centres in the most deprived areas are examined using the responses from a survey of children’s centre leaders conducted in July and September 2011.

The report shows the changing environment in which children’s centres operate with 40 per cent experiencing recent cuts in services or staffing, and many leaders managing two or more centres. The subsequent outputs from this study will examine children’s centres’ service delivery, multiagency working and reach, impact analysis, cost benefit analysis, and the families using them.

Source: Evaluation of Children’s Centres in England (2012), Department for Education

It’s not about the money

The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) has published a new PISA in Focus review, analysing the results of their PISA study (Programme for International Student Assessment). It explores whether money “buys” improved performance for a country, and finds that higher expenditure on education does not guarantee better pupil performance. National wealth is important up to a point, and this research focuses on countries above a certain baseline.

But, for relatively high-income economies, the success of the country’s education system
depends more on how educational resources are invested than on the volume of investment. Investing in teachers and having high expectations for all pupils are cited as particularly important characteristics.

Source: Does Money Buy Strong Performance in PISA? PISA.