The EPPE 3-11 research shows the significance of child, family, and HLE background factors as predictors of children‟s academic attainment and progress, and the way such influences change over time. This is relevant to the monitoring of equity in education.
The research indicates that much of the apparent difference in attainment associated with certain characteristics, for example, ethnicity, is attributable to the impact of other socio-economic and demographic factors (e.g. birth weight, income, language, family SES, parents‟ qualification levels and HLE). Such findings are important in informing thinking on appropriate policy and practical strategies to address any achievement gap and enhance outcomes for disadvantaged or vulnerable groups. The project‟s previous results have contributed to the evidence base for the Government‟s Equalities Review (http://www.theequalitiesreview.org.uk/).
The research also examined the combined effects of pre-school and primary school on children‟s
educational outcomes. The results indicate the importance of raising the quality and effectiveness of both to raise attainment standards in Maths and English; this may be especially helpful for disadvantaged groups of pupils who are at risk of under achievement (especially those who experienced low Early years HLE).
The more advantaged children show greatest benefit from high quality and highly effective pre- schools, however, the results also suggest that for more disadvantaged children, high quality and high effectiveness of the pre-school are important in obtaining long lasting benefits in terms of improved English and Mathematics outcomes. For less disadvantaged groups pre-school generally shows a more positive effect, irrespective of quality. The research also indicates the strength of the influence of Early years HLE, which is found to be one of the strongest predictors of higher attainment especially in English in Year 6. The interactions between the quality of the pre- school and Early years HLE indicating that Early years HLE is likely to moderate the influence of pre-school. Again this points to the important role of parents and other carers in providing rich home learning experiences during the sensitive pre-school period of young children‟s
The findings also indicate that parents‟ qualification levels are important influences, more so than other measures such as income or SES.
While educational influences such as better pre-school experience (quality and effectiveness) and primary school academic effectiveness can help boost children‟s overall attainment and progress especially in Mathematics, they can only ameliorate the impact of disadvantage but do not remove this. Nonetheless, there is evidence that their combined effects can be strong and on a par with some other important background factors such as mother‟s being highly qualified (degree standard or above) or high levels of Early years HLE.
We can conclude that no one factor is the key to raising achievement: it is the combination of experiences over time that matters. The child who has a better HLE, goes to a high quality, more effective pre-school setting and who then subsequently attends a more academically effective primary school has an optimum combination of influences that are likely to benefit current and future educational attainment.
Identification of the importance of combinations of influences is also apparent in the parallel research concerning the same samples social/behavioural development (Sammons et al.,2008). In terms of social/behavioural development pre-school quality in combination with, primary school effectiveness showed a significant impact on „Self-regulation‟.
Children who attended a low or even medium effective primary school previously having attended a high quality pre-school provided a protective factor in terms of having higher levels of „Self-
regulation‟ at the end of Key Stage 2. Similarly, attending a high effectiveness primary school was found to benefit, in terms of higher levels of „Self-regulation‟ in Year 6, those children who either did not attend any pre-school or those who attended a low quality pre-school. The combination of high Early years HLE and attending medium or high quality pre-school seem to have a strong association with higher Self-regulation levels at the end of Key Stage 2. Also, high Early years HLE seem to be a protective factor for children who do not attend pre-school helping them achieve higher levels of „Self-regulation‟ in primary school. Similarly, attending high quality pre-school seem to protect against low Early years HLE and therefore helping children achieve higher levels of „Self-regulation‟.
The implication of these findings is that policy development should seek to promote strategies to support improvements in Early years HLE especially for vulnerable groups and also work to improve the quality and effectiveness of pre-school provision. Pre-schools are well placed to identify children who may need extra support and could be guided to work with parents to improve the HLE. The improvement of provision in poorer quality pre-schools also needs to be given a high priority, since poor quality provision does not appear to offer long term benefits in terms of better child attainments at the end of Year 6, even though any pre-school experience was found to benefit children in a wide range of skills and social behaviours at younger ages when they started primary school, and in their first year of primary school (see Sammons et al., 2002; 2003; 2004b; 2004c; 2007a; 2007b for equivalent results at age 5, 6, 7 and 10 years).
The research also indicates that the primary school attended has important consequences. Improving the academic effectiveness of primary schools is likely to be of benefit for
disadvantaged groups of pupils, since we find that attending a more academically effective primary school is more critical for this group. The finding that social/behavioural development as well as English and Mathematics attainment is boosted by academically effective primary schools has important implications for the achievement of the Every Child Matters agenda; this shows that the promotion of better academic outcomes does not compete with the development of better
social/behavioural development (a point discussed further in the Report to the Equalities Review, EPPE 3-11 Team., 2007). The finding that primary school academic effectiveness is a more significant influence for disadvantaged pupils (especially those who did not go to pre-school) is of particular importance to the achievement of the social inclusion as well as the raising standards agendas.
In order to help reduce the achievement gap for the most disadvantaged groups, concerted and complementary actions to strengthen the Early years HLE, and ensure good quality pre-school and primary school experiences, since improvements to any one in isolation would be insufficient to enhance outcomes. In addition, targeted interventions for children who are well behind their peers in cognitive or social/behavioural development at the start of primary school are likely to be needed to help prevent a widening of the attainment gap during Key Stage 1 and 2. Those children in need of EAL support show significantly poorer results especially in Mathematics, so ways to support Mathematics teaching for such children require further attention.