Poorer children are less likely to benefit from free nursery places

By Nuffield Foundation

Free nursery places disproportionately benefit children from higher income families, according to new Nuffield-funded research at LSE’s Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE).

Since 2004, all three-year-olds have been entitled to a free nursery place. In 2010 this entitlement rose from 12.5 to 15 hours a week and in 2013, free places were extended to two-year-olds from low-income families. Last year, there was an additional expansion to 30 funded hours a week for three and four-year-olds with working parents. The government currently spends £6 billion a year in total on early education and childcare.

Using the National Pupil Database, Dr Tammy Campbell, Dr Ludovica Gambaro and Dr Kitty Stewart from LSE’s CASE, examined all autumn-born four-year-olds attending nursery in January 2011 and asked whether they started attending when first eligible, in January 2010. A significant proportion, 18.4 per cent, had not done so.

Researchers found that almost one in five children delays taking up a free place in pre-school education – most of them from low-income families. Around one third of persistently poor children delayed, compared to one sixth of their higher-income peers.

Persistently poor children who claim free school meals (FSM) for all three years of early primary school are 13 percentage points less likely to attend for the full five terms of free pre-school education than children from higher-income families who never claim FSM.

The researchers also examined whether the type of pre-school provision available locally makes a difference to take-up. They found that in areas where more children take their places in Sure Start centres, take-up was highest among all children – and the gap between low- and higher-income children much smaller. In contrast, areas with most pre-school places provided through the private sector have the largest gap in take-up between low- and higher-income families.

The paper concludes by saying that “An autumn-born child in a higher income working family will benefit from five terms at 30 hours compared to three terms at 15 hours for a summer-born children in a family whose parents are unemployed. Without serious attention to this issue, the universal free places, while hailed as a great success in the prevalent policy discourse, look set to play a part in embedding or widening inequalities, in direct contrast to stated policy aims.”

Dr Tammy Campbell commented: “Universally funded pre-school education is not, in fact, being accessed equally by all children. The families who are benefitting most from the policy are those who are already advantaged in many ways – while low-income children miss out. The recent introduction of more free hours for parents earning up to £100,000 per annum is likely to worsen this situation, as well as closures of accessible provision in the state and voluntary sectors, including Sure Start centres. It’s time for a clear and transparent reassessment of the purpose of funding for the pre-school stage – looking properly at which children win under the current system, and at who misses out.”

Related


Explore our projects

Young-boy-uses-tablet-with-mother-for-maths-learning-Can-maths-apps-add-value-to-learning-PROJ
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

Can maths apps add value to learning?

View project
Medical-professional-massages-patient-knee-Understanding-joint-replacement-surgery-decision-making-for-older-patients-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2023

Supporting older patients to make informed decisions about knee surgery

View project
Older-man-reads-textbook-Assembling-data-jigsaw-Greater-Manchester-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2024

Assembling the data jigsaw: powering robust population research in MSK disease

View project
Woman-medical-professional-treats-patient-impact-MSK-conditions-outcomes-other-illnesses-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

The impact of musculoskeletal conditions on outcomes of other illnesses

View project
Male-teacher-teaches-teenagers-in-secondary-school-lesson-Autonomous-schools-and-the-teacher-labour-market-Evidence-from-academies-PROJ
New

Education | 2020

Autonomous schools and the teacher labour market: Evidence from academies

View project
Female-nurse-sees-patient-in-office-Integrating-enriched-longitudinal-data-North-Staffordshire-Stoke-on-Trent-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2025

Enriched data integration for population musculoskeletal health intelligence

View project
Older-man-and-woman-walk-together-Geographical-mapping-prevalence-outcomes-MSK-conditions-Wales-Scotland-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

Mapping rheumatic and musculoskeletal disease in Scotland and Wales

View project
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

Older people in England: the geography of challenges and opportunities

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2020

The impact of COVID-19 on mainstream schools in England

View project
Toddler-gleefully-eats-baked-beans-How-COVID-19-is-affecting-food-security-proj
New

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

How the COVID-19 crisis is affecting food security

View project
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

Vulnerability, migration and well-being: experiences, perceptions and barriers

View project
Senior-woman-enjoys-video-call-on-smartphone-Social-cohesion-in-context-of-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

Social cohesion in the context of COVID-19

View project
Male-teacher-teaches-teenagers-in-secondary-school-lesson-Autonomous-schools-and-the-teacher-labour-market-Evidence-from-academies-PROJ
New

Education | 2020

Autonomous schools and the teacher labour market: Evidence from academies

View project
Young-boy-uses-tablet-with-mother-for-maths-learning-Can-maths-apps-add-value-to-learning-PROJ
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

Can maths apps add value to learning?

View project
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

Vulnerability, migration and well-being: experiences, perceptions and barriers

View project
Toddler-gleefully-eats-baked-beans-How-COVID-19-is-affecting-food-security-proj
New

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

How the COVID-19 crisis is affecting food security

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2020

The impact of COVID-19 on mainstream schools in England

View project
Early years worker sitting at table with children
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

The ‘common elements’ approach: improving outcomes in early childhood education

View project
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

Older people in England: the geography of challenges and opportunities

View project
Senior-woman-enjoys-video-call-on-smartphone-Social-cohesion-in-context-of-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

Social cohesion in the context of COVID-19

View project
Teenage-girl-looks-at-smartphone-next-to-laptop-Growing-up-under-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Education | Welfare | 2020 - 2021

Growing up under COVID-19

View project
Young-boy-wearing-glasses-watches-laptop-school-lesson-with-notepad-The-effects-COVID-19-on-families-time-use-child-development-PROJ
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

The effects of COVID-19 on families’ time-use and child development

View project
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

COVID-19 social study

View project
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

COVID realities: families on low incomes during the pandemic

View project
Older-man-reads-textbook-Assembling-data-jigsaw-Greater-Manchester-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2024

Assembling the data jigsaw: powering robust population research in MSK disease

View project
Medical-professional-massages-patient-knee-Understanding-joint-replacement-surgery-decision-making-for-older-patients-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2023

Supporting older patients to make informed decisions about knee surgery

View project
Woman-medical-professional-treats-patient-impact-MSK-conditions-outcomes-other-illnesses-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

The impact of musculoskeletal conditions on outcomes of other illnesses

View project
Female-nurse-sees-patient-in-office-Integrating-enriched-longitudinal-data-North-Staffordshire-Stoke-on-Trent-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2025

Enriched data integration for population musculoskeletal health intelligence

View project
Older-man-and-woman-walk-together-Geographical-mapping-prevalence-outcomes-MSK-conditions-Wales-Scotland-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

Mapping rheumatic and musculoskeletal disease in Scotland and Wales

View project
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

Older people in England: the geography of challenges and opportunities

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2020

The impact of COVID-19 on mainstream schools in England

View project
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

Vulnerability, migration and well-being: experiences, perceptions and barriers

View project
Toddler-gleefully-eats-baked-beans-How-COVID-19-is-affecting-food-security-proj
New

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

How the COVID-19 crisis is affecting food security

View project
Senior-woman-enjoys-video-call-on-smartphone-Social-cohesion-in-context-of-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

Social cohesion in the context of COVID-19

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

Post-16 educational trajectories and social inequalities in political engagement

View project
Woman-looks-at-smartphone-screen-How-the-UK-public-gets-information-about-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2020

How the UK public gets information about COVID-19

View project
Reported

Welfare | 2019 - 2020

Valuing data: foundations for data policy

View project
Reported

Welfare | 2019 - 2020

Revaluation and reform: bringing council tax into the 21st century

View project
Maths resit students taking exam
Reported

Education | 2019 - 2020

A new mathematics GCSE curriculum for post-16 resit students

View project
Reported

Welfare | 2018 - 2019

Atlas of inequality: understanding the local nature of a global phenomenon

View project
Reported

Education | 2018 - 2018

GCSE and A-level results day project

View project
Reported

Education | 2018 - 2020

Teaching reading: an integrated programme for deaf & hearing children

View project
Reported

Welfare | 2018 - 2018

Interdisciplinary conference on evidence use in policy

View project
Reported

Welfare | 2018 - 2019

Overview of the major ethical issues arising from data, algorithms and AI

View project
Reported

Education | 2018 - 2019

Developing a sustainable intervention for disadvantaged children

View project
Reported

Welfare | 2018 - 2018

Improving survey representation of non-resident parents

View project
Reported

Welfare | 2018 - 2018

Council tax support schemes’ impact on claimants & local authorities

View project
Reported

Justice | Welfare | 2018 - 2019

Pathways of incarcerated children in care

View project
Search projects

We improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We offer our grant-holders the freedom to frame questions and enable new thinking. Our research must stand up to rigorous academic scrutiny, but we understand that to be successful in effecting change, it also needs to be relevant to people’s experience.

Profile

COVID-19 response

Nuffield-funded social scientists are conducting COVID-19 research in real-time, to capture people’s experiences of the social, cultural and economic impacts of the pandemic.