A £3 billion
series of policies designed to boost the achievements of pre-school
children has had no effect on the development levels of those
entering primary school, a study suggests.
have been big changes in early years education, children’s
vocabulary and their ability to count and to recognise letters,
shapes and rhymes are no different now than they were six years ago.
The results of
the study from the University of Durham will come as a huge blow to
the Government after a string of initiatives that have cost more
than £3 billion since 2001 and that include the early childhood
curriculum, the Sure Start programme, free nursery education for all
three-year-olds and the Every Child Matters initiative.
Tony Blair and
Gordon Brown made much of the drive to improve pre-school education,
which was promoted heavily in Labour’s last general election
follow the results of an assessment of the Sure Start programme in
2005, which also found no overall improvement in the areas targeted
by the scheme.
which was influenced by the Head Start programme in the US, is
targeted at children aged up to 5 and their families in deprived
areas. It is intended to offer a range of early years services,
including health advice, childcare, parenting classes and training
to help mothers into work.
Merrell, of the University of Durham’s Curriculum, Evaluation and
Management Centre and co-author of the study, said that she had no
idea why the investment of so much public money had produced so few
results. “One would have expected that the major government
programmes would have resulted in some measurable changes in our
sample of almost 35,000 children. It is possible, however, that it
is just still too early to measure the effects of these programmes,
particularly those of the Children Act and Every Child Matters,
which were only introduced in the past few years,” she said.
Dr Merrell and
her team studied 6,000 children a year aged 4 and 5 at 124 primary
schools. The children were asked to complete a 15-minute series of
fun activities on a computer and were not aware that they were being
tested. The tests were designed to measure the children’s vocabulary
acquisition and whether they could recognise rhyming words and
repeat certain sounds. The children were also tested on their
ability to count and to recognise shapes, letters and words.
progress was detected on these measures among the 35,000 children
from a range of backgrounds who were studied over the course of the
six-year study, to be presented today at the biennial European
Association for Learning and Instruction conference in Budapest. Dr
Merrell admitted that the study was limited because it failed to
identify which children, if any, had been subject to contact with
Sure Start or any other of the Government’s recent pre-school
initiatives. However, given that 35,000 children in 124 schools were
assessed, she said it was likely that many had taken part in the
initiatives. She said that the research highlighted the importance
of subjecting education policies to continuous scientific monitoring
to see if they were working before introducing them nationally.
“Even then, high-quality data needs to be used to track the impact
of the evolving intervention. Only then can the Government really
measure what does and doesn’t work in education,” she said.
used the Centre’s performance indicators in primary schools (Pips)
assessment to measure the cognitive development of the children. The
Pips baseline assessment is one of a range of assessments that
enable schools to monitor children’s progress. Pips is used by more
than 3,000 primary schools in Britain, 800 schools in Australia and
others worldwide including New Zealand, the Netherlands and South