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Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities (CEPEO)


We create research to improve the education system and equalise opportunities for all.


Archive for the 'Early Years' Category

What has been the effect of Covid-19 on Early Years providers and what should the government do about it?

By IOE Editor, on 24 July 2020

By Dr. Jake Anders and Dr. Laura Outhwaite

It is estimated that 2.1 million children under the age of 5 access Early Years care. These early years of a child’s life are fundamental to their development, learning, and later life outcomes. Children who receive high-quality early education and care, and have a good level of development by age 5 years, go on to achieve good levels of academic achievement at age 7 and beyond. As such, high-quality early years provision is vital to addressing educational inequalities and has benefits for wider society and the economy. For every £1 invested in quality early education and care, £13 in future costs is saved for UK taxpayers.

In England, early education and care is provided by multiple stakeholders including group-based providers (66%), school-based nurseries (20%), and childminders (14%). Despite the range of benefits to the child and society, research shows Early Years workers are widely underpaid and undervalued: research carried out by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) before the Covid-19 pandemic found that the mean average hourly salary ranged from £8.30 in group-based provision to £15.10 for reception staff. However, 10% of staff in group-based providers received pay below the National Living Wage of £7.20 for workers aged 25 and over, which was made mandatory in 2016. In 2018, 44% of childcare workers claimed additional state benefits or tax credits to support themselves and their families.

The pandemic has only exacerbated such issues. While the government furlough scheme has protected jobs in this sector, the 80% salary coverage for those on already low pay has meant that many Early Years workers may find themselves with insufficient income to make ends meet. A recent analysis by EPI highlights that this has meant that the retention of workers within this sector is drastically falling, with many workers turning to other industries, such as retail, to provide financial stability.

But the current situation has also hit the Early Years sector from a business perspective. Before Covid-19, the Early Years sector was already experiencing issues of increased funding pressures, which were filtering down to increased costs for parents. This has been exacerbated by the pandemic: research by the Sutton Trust shows two thirds of Early Years providers were closed during the lockdown, with low-income areas of the country hit hardest, and ongoing capacity constraints are likely to mean that some no longer see a path to fiscal sustainability and will remain closed for good.

Given how important high-quality early years provision is, as both a vital part of supporting children’s early development and to support their parents’ ability to return to work, it is striking that plans to support the Early Years sector are largely absent from the government’s Covid-19 catch-up funding for schools. The Sutton Trust has set out what a similar package for the Early Years sector could look like; recommending an £88million package, including transition funding to see practitioners through these especially challenging months, and the introduction of an Early Years Pupil Premium available to providers serving children from low-income families.

The government’s response to both new and ongoing challenges faced in the Early Years sector has been widely criticised both before and during Covid-19. In particular, the Social Mobility Commission highlighted in their report earlier this year that the government has made little to no action on developing and delivering ‘a coherent and long-term early years strategy focused on improving outcomes for the least advantaged, since 2013’. It is vital for children, parents, the economy, and our society that immediate and lasting actions are taken to address this. The longer the sector does not receive such support, the harder it will be for it to recover, and the more children will go without the important developmental support that we know high-quality early years provision can bring.

10 things you may not know about educational inequality

By IOE Editor, on 15 June 2020

1. There are large inequalities in the home learning environment

Families from lower socio-economic backgrounds may experience challenges in supporting their child’s home learning. For example through:

  • Limited access to resources(including tech devices);
  • Lack of reliable and fast Internet connection;
  • Low levels of parental numeracy and literacy;
  • Anxieties towards learning (especially maths).

Current evidence suggests it is important to focus on the quality of children’s home learning, rather than simply the quantity. 

2. Parental inputs affect early child development

By the time children start school, socio-economic gaps are evident in child skills. Exploring the role of various parental inputs, we find that financial resources are an important channel, explaining up to 59% of the effect on child cognitive skills. Parental investments of health behaviours during pregnancy and monetary investments at home explain a further 14% of the test score gaps.

3. Jobless parents invest less money but more time in their children’s learning

Parents out of work, but with otherwise similar backgrounds to working parents, provide lower monetary investments but more time investments in their children’s learning, such as helping with homework. These findings could help guide future social policy aimed at equalising opportunities for children living in workless households.

4. There are large inequalities in the courses that university students attend, by family background.

We examine inequalities in the match between student quality and university quality. We find that students from lower socio-economic groups systematically undermatch, that secondary schools play a key role in generating these gaps, and that while there are negligible gender gaps in the academic match, high-attaining women systematically undermatch in terms of expected earnings, largely driven by subject choice.

5. There is a great deal of inaccuracy in predicted grades.

Only 16% of applicants’ to the UK University system have predicted grades that are accurate. While 75% of applicants have their grades over-predicted, high-attaining, disadvantaged students are significantly more likely to receive under-predictions. Those under-predicted candidates are more likely to enrol in courses for which they are overqualified than their peers. The use of predicted rather than actual grades has important implications for student’s labour market outcomes and social mobility in general.

6. Non-monetary incentives can improve teacher retention.

The French have a non-pecuniary (non-money based), “career-path oriented” centralized incentive scheme designed to attract and retain teachers in French disadvantaged schools. We find this incentive scheme has a statistically significant positive effect on the number of consecutive years teachers stay in disadvantaged schools and decreases the probability of inexperienced teachers in disadvantaged schools to leave the profession.

7. Teacher’s working hours have remained stable despite initiatives to reduce them

Surveys have revealed that teachers in England work far longer hours than their international counterparts. However, contrary to current narrativeswe do not find evidence that average working hours have increased. Indeed, we find no notable change in total hours, work during evenings and weekends over the fifteen to twenty years. The results suggest that policy initiatives have so far failed to reduce teachers’ working hours and that more radical action may need to be taken in order to fix this problem. The article concludes with a discussion of how official data on working hours could be improved.

8. There are large inequalities in who accesses grammar schools

Inequalities exist in who attains places at grammar schools by socio-economic status, with more disadvantaged children far less likely to attend a grammar school than their more advantaged peers. This is true even when comparing those with similar levels of academic achievement. 

9. Private school choices are based on values, not just money

Given the high and rising fees required to send a child to private school, one might think that the decision is entirely connected with financial resources. However, while these remain an important factor, we argue that other determinants are also important. In particular, we highlight the importance of parental values and geographical proximity to choosing high-quality state school alternatives. 

10. Bullying casts a long shadow on attainment

Both type of bullying and its intensity matters for long-run outcomes such as obtaining a degreeincome, and mental health. We can assess the effects of bullying victimisation on short- and long-term outcomes, including educational achievements, earnings, and mental ill-health at age 25 years.

Home schooling during lockdown: Inequalities in inputs and perceptions

By IOE Editor, on 5 June 2020

By: Dr. Jake Anders, Professor Lindsey Macmillan, Professor Patrick Sturgis and Dr. Gill Wyness

The past few weeks have been challenging for parents across the country working hard to support their children to continue to learn during the COVID–19 lockdown. One of the reasons for the big push to get kids back to school is the concern over inequalities driven by differences in home learning. Using new data from a high-quality random sample collected using the Kantar Public Voice Survey, we examine the extent of inequalities in home schooling during lockdown from the end of April to the beginning of June. We find stark differences in the time spent home schooling but also in the perceptions of parents, in terms of their ability to adequately support their children’s learning, and in how the burden of home schooling is divided between mothers and fathers.

Differences in days spent home schooling

While very similar proportions (around 75%) of graduate and non-graduate parents report doing any home schooling, graduate parents report home schooling their children on more days compared to non-graduate parents. While almost 80% of graduate parents are home schooling their children at least 4 days a week, only 60% of non-graduates are home schooling this often. This is consistent with other surveys covering the same period that have found inequalities in the amount of time spent home schooling by parental income.

Differences in perception of ability to home school

These differences in time spent home schooling could be driven, in part, by graduate parents having greater confidence in their abilities to home school their children. In our survey, graduates were more likely (70%) to agree with the statement ‘I am confident in my household’s abilities to home school my child’ compared to non-graduates (60%). Similarly, graduate parents report more confidence that their child’s learning is continuing. This confidence gap in ability to home school is concerning, as studies show that children who have parents with anxiety about maths tend to perform worse in maths.

Differences in perceptions of interfering with their job

These differences in time spent home schooling seem to have a consequential effect on whether parents’ feel able to do their jobs. Graduates are substantially more likely to agree that home schooling is interfering with their job, a difference this is particularly pronounced for mothers, with nearly 80% of graduate mothers agreeing that home schooling had interfered with their ability to do their job, compared to 67% of graduate fathers, and 50% of non-graduates.


Differences in perception of who is doing the most home schooling

This inequality between mothers and fathers can also be seen when we consider who is doing the most to support their child with schoolwork during lockdown. Around half (49%) of fathers say that their partner does most of the home schooling, with the other half split between those who say that they take on the lion’s share (16%), and those reporting that this responsibility is split equally (33%). This contrasts with mothers, with almost two-thirds (63%) saying they devote most time on this task, with only one fifth (21%) reporting an equal split, and just 13% saying that their partners are doing the majority of home-schooling. These patterns are, again, particularly pronounced for graduate mothers. Similar differences in perceptions between mothers and fathers have also been found in the US, where 45% of fathers said they did most of the home schooling – but just 3% of mothers reported that their partner was making the largest contribution.

Support for children and working mothers

Taken together this new evidence from a high-quality random sample of parents suggests that inequalities arising from home schooling during lockdown will exacerbate existing inequalities in education. We know that children of graduate parents already have higher levels of cognitive and socio-emotional skills on school entry. These inequalities are only likely to widen if children from less advantaged backgrounds are spending less time on home-schooling during lockdown. Non-graduate parents are also less confident in their ability to home school their children and this may be detrimental to the quality of the support they are able to provide.

Our survey also reveals gender disparities in the impact of home schooling, with graduate mothers particularly likely to report that home schooling is interfering with their jobs. But parents perceptions do not align on who is sharing the greater burden; while half of fathers say they are doing at least an equal share, a clear majority of mothers think that this level of paternal input is exaggerated.

Catch up strategies when schools re-open should be mindful that returning children will have been exposed to different levels of home schooling. Similarly, employers should be mindful that the burden of home schooling during lockdown is more likely to have affected mothers compared to other employees, and factor this into future pay reviews and promotions.

Dr. Jake Anders is Associate Professor of Educational and Social Statistics and Deputy Director of the Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities (CEPEO), UCL

Professor Lindsey Macmillan is a Professor of Economics and Director of CEPEO, UCL

Professor Patrick Sturgis is a Professor of Quantitative Social Science at the LSE Department of Methodology

Dr. Gill Wyness is Associate Professor of Economics and Deputy Director of CEPEO, UCL


GCSEs are cancelled. Here’s what the government should do.

By IOE Editor, on 19 March 2020

By Professor John Jerrim

Yesterday, the DfE took the extraordinary step of cancelling GCSE exams. This will mean that some children will suffer the consequences throughout their lifetime.

This is obviously a very tricky situation, and any solution the government comes up with will be less than perfect.

But, in my view, one clear option is the winner: children in the 2019/20 cohort should be award GCSEs based upon their predicted grades.

This has the obvious advantage of being relatively cheap, quick, and easy to do. It is also (arguably) unlikely to be less fair than the alternatives.


The greatest concerns the government his likely to have with predicted grades is that (a) schools will inflate their pupils grades and (b) some students grades will be more inflated than others (e.g. equally able children from poor backgrounds will be predicted lower grades than their peers from rich backgrounds).

On (a) there are statistical ways we can look out for schools with suspiciously high or low grades. After all, we know how their pupils have performed in GCSEs in previous years. By making clear that there will be such checks on schools, it will greatly reduce any temptation to game the system.

On (b), one of the benefits of England having a *very* data driven system is that almost all Year 11 students will have taken either mock exams or standardised tests from companies like GL Assessment, Hodder etc. Schools could be asked to justify the predicted grades that they assign kids based upon such information, and even try to do some moderation where neccesary. Although the quality and quantity of such information is likely to vary from school-to-school, there are again likely to be statistical ways we can account for this to make the best predictions possible.


In my view, there are few credible alternatives to this approach. Exams could be taken in September instead, but who knows if the situation will even be over by then? It would also mean that these kids have been out of school for six months, which will create its own unfairness. Young people will also have progressed on to A-Levels or into jobs. And who will be available to do the marking of all these tests, in the prime time of the academic year?


We all have to do our bit through this crisis. I may not be able to cure the Coronavirus, but I want my knowledge and skills to be put to the best use, where they are needed.

My hope is that this blog will help thinking on this matter. And I want to make clear, any assistance I can provide to the DfE and Ofqual on this important matter, then I will make it my top priority.



Who goes to private school? Looking beyond the money.

By IOE Editor, on 14 March 2020

By Dr. Jake Anders,

While those in private schools make up a fairly small proportion of children attending school in England (although higher than many realise: it is estimated that almost one in ten children attend a private school at some point during their educational careers), it is important to understand who does so. Unlike in many countries, private school attendance in Britain is associated with substantial advantages later in life. Many important and influential fields (such as politics, judges and journalists) are dominated by those who went to private schools when they were children.

It is well known, and unsurprising given the costs associated with attending, that there is a link between family income and attending a private school. However, it is not just the case that all those who can afford it send their children to private schools and those who cannot do not: even among families with high levels of income it is far from the case that all children actually attend a private school. If they are not constrained by finance, what explains why some of these families choose to send their children to a private school and some do not?

Some earlier studies have interviewed parents to ask about their motivations in choosing a school. However, we know that parents might not always be completely honest with a stranger about–or even be fully aware of–the underlying reasons for the decisions they make about personal decisions of this type. Our approach is quite different to such interviews, in that we use quantitative data to compare the characteristics of those whose children attend private schools with those whose children do not. We then try to draw inferences based on such patterns, avoiding the need to ask parents to think hypothetically about what they would have done in different circumstances, and instead basing our findings on their observed behaviour.

Using this approach, we shed new light on two seemingly important factors in explaining parents’ decisions to choose private schooling for their children. Our work was carried out using data from the Millennium Cohort Study: a large-scale research study that has followed a group of children who were born in the year 2000 and their families. The sample is designed to be representative of families across the UK, although in this work we focus specifically on those in England because of the differences in education systems between England and other countries in the UK. Every few years participating families are asked questions about their child’s development, their educational progress, and family life more generally. The data from this study allows us to paint a rich picture of families’ circumstances and finding out about the decisions they have made, meaning we can look at the links between these among those taking part.

First, the role of parents’ personal beliefs and values. To attempt to measure these, we analysed the responses parents gave to a set of statements about their views on family life when their child was one year old. One of the measurable values that emerged from this analysis we refer to as “traditional” values; two examples of the particular statements relevant to capturing these factors are ‘Couples who have children should not separate’ and ‘It is alright for people to have children without being married’. We found that, even when we compare families with similar levels of income, parents with higher levels of these “traditional” values were more likely to send their children to private school. We find this particularly explaining the variation in private school attendance among families with high levels of income, with this finding similar in spirit to earlier work by Stephen Ball whose interviews with parents identified that, for some people, “private schooling is a possible but unacceptable choice”.

Second, we explored the relevance of where families live on the educational choices they make for their children. Specifically, we calculate how close families live to the nearest state schools we think some parents might be more likely to see as substitutes for private schools. By doing so, we are able to observe that families who live closer to academically selective grammar schools, or who live closer to schools judged ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted, are less likely to send their children to private schools. While some of this difference could be caused by families deliberately moving, in order to live close to such schools (often in areas with higher housing costs), this link persists among those with similar levels of family income and other key characteristics, suggesting the patterns we see aren’t only about differences in house prices near to such schools, for example.

Overall, we provide new evidence about some of the reasons–beyond the basic finances–that parents make decisions about private schooling. Among parents with low levels of “traditional” values it is much less likely that they will choose private schooling for their children, no matter how much income they have. Adding to this, some parents who would otherwise choose private education are happy to send their children to a state school if they live close to one with certain characteristics, such as a high Ofsted rating. Findings such as these should make us mindful of the complexities of decisions parents make about private schooling and the implications these have for the composition of pupils in both state and private sectors.