Impact Study on Early Education Use and Child Outcomes up to Age Three


Edward Melhuish, Julian Gardiner, Stephen Morris


The Study of Early Education and Development (SEED)1 is a major study designed to help the Department for Education (DfE) provide evidence on the effectiveness of early years education and to identify any short- and longer-term benefits from this investment. This report is part of SEED, and focuses on the take-up of the early education offer for two-year-olds, and on exploring how early childhood education and care (ECEC) may be related to children’s development at age three. SEED aims to study children longitudinally at age two, three, four, five and seven to seek information on how variation in ECEC experience may be associated with cognitive and socio-emotional development.

Against a background of a general increase over time in ECEC use by all types of families with all levels of disadvantage, this report finds limited evidence of increased use of funded ECEC for disadvantaged two-year-olds between the ages of two and three years in response to the introduction of the policy of 15 hours of free early education in the year following its introduction. Three possible reasons are advanced for this. First, that this evaluation of the use of early education by two-year-olds occurred too soon after the introduction of the policy. Secondly, that practice differed markedly amongst local authorities. Thirdly, that the results accurately reflect a lack of demand for funded ECEC by parents of two- year-olds eligible for the policy, and those parents in these most and moderately disadvantaged groups who are inclined to use early education for two-year-olds would do so regardless of whether it was funded or not.

When controlling for home environment and demographic factors, the amount of ECEC received between ages two and three years was associated with differences in cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes at age three years. Beneficial outcomes across all three levels of disadvantage studied suggest that ECEC use has a positive benefit regardless of a child’s household income disadvantage level. Although, given the lower starting point among disadvantaged children and reduced likelihood to take up childcare ECEC may be of particular importance for this group.