Lengthening time in preschool is good! Or is it?

new article published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly indicates that receiving an additional year of preschool education benefits disadvantaged children. The authors conducted a study of children participating in a daily preschool programme in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who were largely from disadvantaged backgrounds. They compared the outcomes of the children who participated for two years (entering at age three) and one year (entering at age four). Assessments were conducted simultaneously across participating schools by a team of research assistants in the autumn of each year. The findings showed that receiving a second year of preschool led to significant improvements in the children’s early literacy and numeracy skills and school readiness.

However, a new paper by Canadian researchers offers a different perspective. The authors investigated the long-term effects of the length of early childhood education using a variation created by a policy experiment in British Columbia in the late 1980s. The experiment resulted in a period where some children attended kindergarten for only six months, and others for sixteen months (compared to the usual ten months). The pupils were tracked over time, and of the original sample, 82,499 pupils were tracked as far as their grade ten (age 16/17) maths and reading tests. The authors found that “long kindergarten” reduced grade ten maths scores by about 2.6% of a standard deviation, and reading scores by about 6.2% of a standard deviation, though only the latter is statistically significant. The findings also implied that being in kindergarten longer increased the probability of grade repetition. Negative effects were highest for disadvantaged pupils and males. However, the authors note that the strong negative effect for long kindergarten may also arise from larger class sizes, the relatively lower age for this group, and the fact that they may have spent time in a low-quality kindergarten instead of being at home or in formal daycare.

Sources: One Versus Two Years: Does Length of Exposure to an Enhanced Preschool Program Impact the Academic Functioning of Disadvantaged Children in Kindergarten? (2013), Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(4).

The Long-run Impacts of Early Childhood Education: Evidence from a Failed Policy Experiment (2013), Economics of Education Review, 36.

Reviewing the evidence on special education interventions

The goal of this report from Topics in Early Childhood Special Education was to synthesise the available research evidence on responsive interaction intervention (RII) for children with or at risk for developmental delays. RII is a naturalistic intervention approach to promote caregivers’ responsiveness to their children’s behaviours with the ultimate aim of improving the children’s emotional, language, and cognitive development.

Through a search of articles from 1990 to 2010, the authors identified 26 studies (31 articles) employing group experimental or quasi-experimental designs that met the inclusion criteria for the synthesis. Strategies reviewed included teaching the caregiver to increase communicative responsiveness to the child’s behaviours (eg, imitating the child’s utterances, providing linguistic mapping) and being emotionally responsive to the child’s behaviour (eg, acknowledging the child’s signals, providing contingent responsiveness with warm and sensitive behaviours).

Overall, the results of the reviewed studies indicated that implementation of RII resulted in significant positive changes in adults’ responsiveness to their children, and children’s emotional and social-communicative skills. Although the most frequently reported child outcomes were in the social-communication domain (eg, expressive and receptive communication skills), the most consistently significant positive outcomes for parent and child outcomes were in the emotional domain (eg, secure attachment, self-soothing).

Source: Responsive Interaction Interventions for Children With or at Risk for Developmental Delays: A Research Synthesis (2013), Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 33(1).

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.

Qualifications are the key to better early years education

Providing staff with the right skills is essential for ensuring better quality early years education. Professor Cathy Nutbrown has published her final independent report on early education and childcare qualifications Foundations for Quality, which shows that high quality early years provision narrows the gap between disadvantaged children and others, and that staff qualifications improve quality.

A large-scale public consultation was conducted to gather evidence, and an interim report was released in March 2012. In this final report, Professor Nutbrown has set out 19 recommendations to improve the quality of education in the early years sector. These include, mentoring and support for newly-qualified staff, improving qualifications to make them more rigorous and with a stronger focus on child development, and that the government should not impose a licensing system for the sector at this stage.

The government will now consider Professor Nutbrown’s report in detail before responding later in the year.

Source: Foundations for quality: The independent review of early education and childcare qualifications – Final Report (2012), Nutbrown Review