Study finds missed opportunities: why children in care need early education

Opportunities to narrow the achievement gap between looked after children and their peers are being missed because too many do not receive good quality early education places.

A new report, Starting out right: early education and looked after children, by researchers from the University of Oxford and the Family and Childcare Trust and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, warns that children in care are falling well behind children in the general population before they even get to primary school and this gap widens throughout their schooling and beyond. Only 18 per cent of children in care go on to achieve five GCSEs at grade C or above compared with the national average of 64 per cent, according to the government data.

The report highlights numerous studies showing that high-quality early education vastly improves outcomes for disadvantaged children. Previous research by Oxford University found high-quality early education could boost GCSE results by as much as five grades.

The report reveals that the take-up of free early education places for two, three and four-year-olds is at least 14 per cent lower among children in care than for children not in care, and the research suggests that this is probably underestimating the scale of the issue. It suggests that local authorities, who are already required by law to monitor and support the educational progress of looked after children at school, should be legally responsible for their early years education as well. It also calls for better data monitoring on whether children in care are receiving free, high-quality early education.

The team found that some councils are doing a lot to promote the early education of looked after children through ‘virtual schools’, a team of teachers and dedicated education professionals who work to support the education of children in care. However, the findings suggest that this is not happening consistently in all areas. The report argues that the lack of good quality national data reflects a lack of focus on how vulnerable children fare in the early years educationally before they start school. Already at risk of much poorer outcomes, many are at an additional disadvantage when they start school if they have not had good quality early years education, says the report.

Interviews carried out as part of the study suggested that there is a huge range in the preparedness of preschools to meet the needs of looked after children, who may have had highly traumatising early experiences, and that the funding available to support this (the Early Years Pupil Premium) is not adequate.

Sandra Mathers, Principal Investigator from the Department of Education at the University of Oxford, said: “We know that the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers starts well before primary school, and that good quality early years provision can act as a powerful intervention to help narrow this gap. Many children in care have such a tough start in life; I can think of few groups for whom access to good quality early years education is more important.”

Opportunities to close this educational gap are being missed due to a policy blind spot. We call on the government to make sure that looked after children have access to high quality early education that boosts their outcomes and life chances. This means bringing together existing services for looked after children and early education services to prioritise the issue and track progress. We need to join the dots to stop vulnerable children slipping between the gaps.” Claire Harding, Head of Research at the Family and Childcare Trust

NOTES

  • The research was carried out by experts at the University of Oxford alongside the research team at the Family and Childcare Trust. They contacted all 152 local authorities across England for an online survey on the level of early years provision for looked after children, and where responses were not freely given they followed up with freedom of information requests. They also carried out interviews with academics, charities, early education providers and foster carers, and reviewed existing national and international evidence.
  • Children in care or ‘looked after children’ includes all children being cared for by the local authority and includes those with kinship and foster carers, as well as those in residential units.

Related


Explore our projects

Woman-medical-professional-treats-patient-impact-MSK-conditions-outcomes-other-illnesses-PROJ
New

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
New

Welfare | 2020 - 2024

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
New

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

Mapping rheumatic and musculoskeletal disease in Scotland and Wales

View project
New

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

Older people in England: the geography of challenges and opportunities

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

Welfare | 2020 - 2023

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

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

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

Social cohesion in the context of COVID-19

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2020

The impact of COVID-19 on mainstream schools in England

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

Education | Welfare | 2020 - 2021

Growing up under COVID-19

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

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

Supporting older patients to make informed decisions about knee surgery

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

Welfare | 2020 - 2020

How the UK public gets information about COVID-19

View project
New

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

COVID-19 and families on a low income: poverty in the pandemic

View project
Empty-street-with-cyclist-and-pedestrian-in-distance-Law-and-compliance-during-COVID-19-PROJ
New

Justice | 2020 - 2021

Law and compliance during COVID-19

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
New

Education | 2020 - 2021

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

View project
New

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
New

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
New

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
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

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

View project
Father-working-from-home-while-his-two-children-do-schoolwork-nearby-COVID-19-social-study-PROJ
New

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

COVID-19 social study

View project
Empty-street-with-cyclist-and-pedestrian-in-distance-Law-and-compliance-during-COVID-19-PROJ
New

Justice | 2020 - 2021

Law and compliance during COVID-19

View project
New

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

COVID-19 and families on a low income: poverty in the pandemic

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

Welfare | 2020 - 2020

How the UK public gets information about COVID-19

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

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

The impact of musculoskeletal conditions on outcomes of other illnesses

View project
Man-massages-own-hand-Longitudinal-evidence-how-arthritis-affects-earnings-PROJ
New

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

How arthritis affects earnings over time

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

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
New

Welfare | 2020 - 2024

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
New

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

Mapping rheumatic and musculoskeletal disease in Scotland and Wales

View project
New

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

Older people in England: the geography of challenges and opportunities

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

Welfare | 2020 - 2023

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

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

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

Social cohesion in the context of COVID-19

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2020

The impact of COVID-19 on mainstream schools in England

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

Welfare | 2020 - 2020

How the UK public gets information about COVID-19

View project
New

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

COVID-19 and families on a low income: poverty in the pandemic

View project
Father-working-from-home-while-his-two-children-do-schoolwork-nearby-COVID-19-social-study-PROJ
New

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

COVID-19 social study

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

Education | 2020 - 2022

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

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

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

Supporting older patients to make informed decisions about knee surgery

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

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
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
Search projects

We improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in EducationWelfare 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