Back to Listings

Report shows free childcare has little lasting impact

A recent study has suggested that free part-time pre-school care for three year olds has had little lasting impact.
The study – “Universal Pre-school Education: The Case for Public Funding with Private Provision”, published in the May 2016 edition of the Economic Journal of the Royal Economic Society – said that the £2 billion a year free early years entitlement scheme has had little effect because most children taking up the provision were already receiving childcare.
“The policy led to small improvements in attainment at age five, with no apparent benefits by age 11,” the report said.
Between 1999 and 2007, the number of three-year-olds taking up the free early years entitlement rose from 37% to 88%. This increase allegedly improved the outcomes of children at age five by, on average, less than two points on the foundation stage profile (FSP), from 87.5 to 89.2.
However, the study claimed that for three- and four-year-olds who were only taking up the provision because it was free, there was an improvement of six points in the FSP for this same time period.
Speaking to Nursery World, researcher and co-writer of the study Dr. Jo Blanden said that the results cast some doubt over the value for money of universal early education.
“The main benefit of the policy seems to have been to make childcare cheaper for families with three-year-olds,” she said.
When the 30-hours free childcare pilot begins in some areas in September, Jo said that it will again save parents money, but that it may not lead to the best educational outcomes for children if high quality settings don’t expand their capacity.
“The expansion of free places was achieved through an increase in private provision, where quality is lower on average than in the public sector,” Jo said.
“It is tempting to say that the money should be targeted on the poorest children. But universalism has its benefits in terms of mixing children from different backgrounds and promoting take up.”