Tammy Campbell, Ludovica Gambaro and Kitty Stewart
Published 7 June 2019
This paper summarises the output of a Nuffield-funded research project exploring inequalities in three aspects of children’s experience in early education in England. The main focus of the project was on ‘peer effects’ in pre-school settings: we examine the extent of clustering by income and language background and explore associations between pre-school peer group and children’s outcomes in early primary school. The report also presents findings on access to the full duration of the free entitlement to early education, and on variation in children’s experience of the transition onward to reception class.
We find much lower levels of clustering in pre-schools in England than have been identified in studies for the US, particularly by income, and little evidence that pre-school peer group is related to early school attainment as assessed by teachers in reception and Year 2. But we identify significant levels of non-take-up of the full entitlement, particularly among disadvantaged groups. A higher prevalence in the local authority of some types of pre-school appears to make a difference: more voluntary sector or Sure Start provision is associated with higher take-up, while more Sure Start provision is further associated with lower inequalities in access between different groups. We also find disparities in the stability of transitions to reception class. In the cohort we examine, children from lowincome backgrounds and some minority ethnic groups are much more likely to experience the most secure transition - from a school nursery class to a reception class in the same school, with high numbers of known peers - because they are more likely to be in school nurseries to begin with. But among those attending school nurseries, some groups, including Black Caribbean children and those with a statement of special educational needs, are significantly less likely than others to continue to reception in that school. The disparity is of potential concern given wider disadvantages facing these groups of children.