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Segration of early years settings: patterns, drivers and outcomes


Dr Kitty Stewart, Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE), London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

Dr Ludovica Gambaro, UCL Institute of Education

Funded by the Nuffield Foundationís Early Years Education and Childcare programme

Duration: 1 January 2016 - 31 August 2018

This project will examine the patterns, drivers, and outcomes of segregation by socioeconomic group and ethnicity in early education.

The team will use data from the National Pupil Database to do three things: 

  1. Examine the extent of segregation in early education for three- and four-year-olds in England, both in relation to socio-economic background and in relation to ethnicity.

  2. Explore the extent to which these patterns simply reflect geographical segregation, and the extent to which they are exacerbated by differences in the nature of provision in different settings (such as different opening hours and fees for additional hours).

  3. Link childrenís data longitudinally to explore the association between pre-school peer group and outcomes at Key Stage 1 (age 7), holding other child and setting characteristics constant.

Why does this matter? 

There is some evidence to support the idea that peer effects are relevant to early child development, in particular in relation to language acquisition. If this is so, the composition of early education settings is an important feature of provision, which is likely to influence childrenís outcomes, especially those of disadvantaged children. But there is much less research on the existence of peer effects for preschool age children than for older children and adolescents, and there has been no systematic attempt to map the extent of segregation across early education settings in England. This project aims to address that. 

Previous related research:

Early childhood education and care: improving quality AND affordability

Funded by the Nuffield Foundation, and in collaboration with the Daycare Trust

Contact: Ludovica Gambaro, Kitty Stewart and Jane Waldfogel.  

Duration: September 2011 - December 2012

There is a growing body of evidence which points to the importance of early childhood education and care (ECEC) for child development, and hence its potential impact on longer-term educational, employment and wider social outcomes. In particular, the impact of exposure to formal ECEC is largest for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. However, the research evidence emphasises that it is high quality provision which is most effective in supporting children’s learning and development.  

At policy level, although language has repeatedly referred to “high quality” care and education, a limited amount has been done to ensure that ECEC places are indeed high quality, that quality is consistent different types of providers, and that children from disadvantaged background in fact receive provision of the highest possible quality.

Indeed, within the UK, there remains considerable variation across forms of provision in both quality and cost. In addition, the four nations differ in the types of services available to families. These variations and complexities make the three-way relationship between quality, cost and family background neither straightforward nor well understood.

By using data from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, this project seeks to answer the following two questions. First, are children who experience disadvantage at home (and are therefore most clearly in need of high quality care outside the home) more or less likely than children from richer households to access the highest quality ECEC? Second, are such variations in accessing high quality services related to costs?

The project also looks beyond the UK, examining the mechanisms through which other countries deliver high quality ECEC. The countries included are Australia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and the USA, and experts from each country have been asked to what extent good quality ECEC services are accessible to children from lower-income families and what policies promote equality of access. The aim of this comparative exercise is to better understand not only variations in the level of public spending, but also the precise ways in which the funding and regulatory systems of different countries are effective in ensuring that services are both affordable and of high quality.