Sure Start had positive health benefits for children in poorer neighbourhoods

A new evaluation conducted by the Institute for Fiscal Studies considers the overall impacts on children’s health of the Sure Start programme as a whole between its inception in 1999 and its peak in the late 2000s. Sure Start is an early intervention programme targeted at parents and children under the age of four living in the most disadvantaged areas. Sure Start projects deliver a wide variety of services, which are designed to support children’s learning skills, health and well-being, and social and emotional development. They include preschool education; medical, dental, and mental health care; nutrition services; and efforts to help parents encourage their child’s development.

The study, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, followed children who had access to Sure Start right through to the end of primary school, and found that Sure Start had major health benefits for children living in disadvantaged areas. The main findings of the study include:

  • Sure Start reduced hospitalisations among children by the time they finished primary school, and these effects built over time. By age 11, greater Sure Start coverage (one more centre per thousand children ages 0–4) prevented around 5,500 hospitalisations per year (18% of the pre-Sure Start baseline).
  • Sure Start benefited children living in disadvantaged areas most. While the probability of any hospitalisation fell by 11% at age 10 and 19% at age 11 for children in the poorest 30% of areas; those in more affluent areas saw smaller benefits, and those in the richest 30% of areas saw practically no impact at all.
  • At every age in primary school, Sure Start reduced hospital admissions for injuries. At younger ages, injury-related hospitalisations fell by around 17% of their pre-Sure Start (1998) baseline; at ages 10 and 11 they fell by 30%. 

The authors suggest that a reason greater benefits were seen in the poorest neighbourhoods could be because disadvantaged children were more able to benefit from Sure Start as the types of services the programme offered in poorer areas were more helpful, or because children in disadvantaged areas were more likely to attend a centre.

In 2012 the Department for Education published a report on the impact of Sure Start Local Programmes (SSLPs) on seven-year-olds and their families, which found no impact on children’s outcomes.

Source: The health effects of Sure Start (June 2019), The Institute for Fiscal Studies

Teacher training routes lead to different outcomes

A new study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies examines the different costs, and likely outcomes, of various routes into teaching.

In England there is a policy of increased school-led initial teacher training, moving away from traditional training in higher education (HE). Although the postgraduate HE route is still the most popular (approximately 40% of trainees each year), school-led approaches such as School Direct (more than 30%) and Teach First (5%) are growing.

The study uses data from the School Workforce Census, an annual record of the school workforce in state-funded schools in England, between 2010 and 2014. This allowed the researchers to track the progress of early career trainees. The key findings from the report included:

  • Five-year retention rates for primary school trainees in state-funded education vary from 58% to 68%, with School Direct (or its predecessor, GTP) trainees being most likely to stay in the sector.
  • Five-year retention rates for secondary school trainees vary more, from 37-44% for Teach First to 59-62% for School Direct.
  • This variation in retention rates means a variation in the cost of having a trainee “in service” five years on, from £59,000 to £72,000 for Teach First to £25,000-£44,000 for all other routes. However, Teach First trainees are disproportionately likely to teach in schools with the most disadvantaged population of pupils.
  • Retention may be affected by the relative pay of teachers and other local workers – higher local wages were associated with lower retention rates of teachers.

Source: The Longer-Term Costs and Benefits of Different Initial Teacher Training Routes (2016), Institute for Fiscal Studies

Reading skills at age 10 associated with improved adult earnings

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has issued a briefing note that investigates the link between reading skills in children at age 10 and their adult outcomes. It is based on analysis of data from the British Cohort Study (a lifetime survey of people born in April 1970). The analysis aimed to account for differences in family background and skills other than reading (such as mathematics and other cognitive and non-cognitive skills).

Good reading skills in children were associated with higher earnings in adults. There was less evidence for an association between childhood reading and other outcomes, including the likelihood of being in work, health status, and passing on reading skills to future generations. The authors reported “suggestive evidence” that the association with higher earnings was stronger for children from poorer backgrounds.

The authors did not consider that their evidence definitely showed a causal relationship between reading skills and outcomes, but that the results should “be regarded as providing suggestive evidence of strong associations.”

Source: The link between childhood reading skills and adult outcomes: analysis of a cohort of British children (2015), The Institute for Fiscal Studies

Which route to qualified teacher status?

An Institute for Fiscal Studies report explores the perceived short-term costs and benefits of different government-funded routes to QTS (qualified teacher status). The study included a survey of hundreds of educators in primary and secondary schools (the exact number of schools was unclear).

Most trainees pass through the higher education-led routes of Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) and Bachelor of Education (BEd). How do these well-established routes compare against the school-based methods of school-centred initial teacher training (SCITT), School Direct (salaried and unsalaried), and Teach First?

The survey revealed that most respondents considered that the benefits of participating in initial teacher training outweighed the costs for all routes except for PGCE training at primary level (where the costs slightly outweighed the benefits). Teach First was the most expensive method for schools but also was cited as having larger benefits than other training routes. Respondents were more likely to state that benefits were higher than costs for school-based training than for higher education-based routes.

Source: The Costs and Benefits of Different Initial Teacher Training Routes (2014), IFS Reports (R100)

Degrees of socio-economic difference

A working paper by the University of Warwick and the Institute for Fiscal Studies investigated differences by socio-economic background in the likelihood of UK students dropping out of university, completing a degree within five years, and graduating with a first or upper second class degree.

The study found that among young people on the same course of study, students from the most impoverished backgrounds were 3.4 percentage points more likely to drop out within two years than were students from the most advantaged socio-economic backgrounds. Students from the lowest socio-economic backgrounds were also 5.3 percentage points less likely to complete their degree.

Source: Socio-economic differences in university outcomes in the UK: drop-out, degree completion and degree class (2014), The Institute for Fiscal Studies

Impact of early education fades

A new report summary from the Institute for Fiscal Studies finds that the impact of early education fades as children go through school.

In England, all four-year-olds have received free part-time early education since 2000; all three-year-olds have received it since 2005; and two-year-olds from low-income families since 2013. Introduction of free services was not immediate and this enabled researchers to measure the impact on child development.

The researchers found that the introduction of free early education for three-year-olds improved their outcomes slightly. Development was assessed at age five using the Foundation Stage Profile and average scores rose from 87.5 to 89.3 (out of a possible 117). These small impacts came mostly from children who would not have attended early education without the free entitlement. If it is assumed that all of the increase comes from these children, then their scores would have risen almost 15 points on the Foundation Stage Profile.

The researchers followed the children to ages seven and 11, when children take further national tests. The estimated impacts of the free education at age seven were very small and by age 11 they had disappeared entirely.

The policy of free early education was introduced because of the EPPE study, which showed that children who received preschool in the late 1990s started school with better cognitive development and that these effects persisted to age 11 and beyond.

The authors of the current study suggested reasons why their results differed from the EPPE study. Free child classes are now often in private, voluntary, and independent settings and these may be of poorer quality. Alternatively, primary schools have changed and improved since the late 1990s and so preschool experience may now matter less.

Source: The impact of free early education for 3 year olds in England (2014), The Institute for Fiscal Studies