Early learning helps narrow skills gap for boys from disadvantaged backgrounds, UK research says

by Freya Lucas

February 25

A new UK-based study has found that boys from disadvantaged backgrounds benefit the most from early learning, with participation in early learning narrowing the skills gap between them and boys from more advantaged circumstances by up to 80 per cent.

 

The study, produced by the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM) at University College London (UCL) reveals that an additional four months of early learning has a positive effect (for educator relationship, academic interest and disruptive behaviour) on boys from disadvantaged backgrounds up until age 11.

 

For this group, participation in early learning from a younger age also increases test scores in language and numeracy at age 5 by 16-20 per cent; personal, social, and emotional development at age 5 by 8 per cent; and, language and numeracy skills at age 7 by about 10 per cent. For boys from high socio-economic backgrounds, on the other hand, many of these effects are close to zero.

 

Co-author of the study, Professor Christian Dustmann, said that an important finding from the research was that the “large skills difference between boys from advantaged and disadvantaged family backgrounds can be substantially reduced by early schooling”.

 

Emphasising that not all early learning opportunities are made equal, Professor Dustmann said “The reason why boys from low socio-economic backgrounds benefit more strongly from early learning may be that they experience lower-quality childcare when not enrolled in early childhood education.”

 

Researchers analysed information from more than 400,000 children born in 2000-2001 who participated in early learning programs run through state schools in England. This was combined with information on more than 7,000 English children from the same birth cohort, who took place in the Millenium Cohort Study.

 


In addition to the boost to language and numeracy skills at age seven, researchers found lasting effects on non-cognitive outcomes including physical development (covering co-ordination and fine motor control); creative development; and, personal, social, and emotional development, with increases of about 5 per cent for one additional four month exposure to early learning.

 

The study may be accessed here.

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