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Early childhood education

This report systematically reviews research on the outcomes of programmes that teach young children in a group setting before they begin reception. The findings reinforce evidence that children’s educational experiences before they start school have an important impact on their attainment in primary school.

The review considered all available research conducted from 1960 onwards on programmes for children aged three to five in a group setting. Study inclusion criteria included the use of randomised or matched control groups, evidence of initial equality, and study duration of at least 12 weeks. Studies included valid measures of language, literacy, phonological awareness, mathematical, and/or cognitive outcomes that were independent of the experimental treatments. 38 studies (evaluating 27 different programmes) met the criteria for outcomes assessed at the end of preschool and/or reception or kindergarten.

The review concludes that on academic outcomes at the end of preschool and/or reception, six early childhood programmes showed strong evidence of effectiveness and five had moderate evidence of effectiveness. Of the 27 programmes reviewed, seven are available for implementation in the UK.

The report also summarised the long-term impact of studies conducted in the 1960s and 70s. The findings indicate that positive effects of participation in high quality early childhood programmes can be enduring.

A linked report published by CfBT, Effective Early Childhood Education Programmes: Case Studies, provides more information on those programmes that were found to have strong evidence of effectiveness. The report can be found on the CfBT website.

Early childhood education

Educator's summary

As PDF document

As web pages

Key findings

Top-rated programmes

Programmes with limited evidence

Other programmes

Review methods

Full report (68 pages)

As PDF document