Fifteen hours’ education for disadvantaged two-year-olds welcomed by Millennium Cohort Study director

21 October 2010

The Chancellor of the Exchequer’s announcement that disadvantaged two-year-olds are to receive 15 hours a week of education and care has been welcomed by the director of a study that is tracking the development of children born in the UK at the beginning of the new millennium.

Professor Heather Joshi, director of the Millennium Cohort Study, pointed out that many children from disadvantaged backgrounds are already up to a year behind more privileged youngsters educationally by the age of three.

She and her colleagues analysed the vocabulary scores of more than 12,000 Millennium children in 2007 and found that the sons and daughters of graduates were, on average, 12 months ahead of those with the least-educated parents at this age.

A second ‘school readiness’ assessment measuring understanding of colours, letters, numbers, sizes and shapes that was given to more than 11,500 three-year-olds found an even wider gap – 13 months – between the two groups. The equivalent gaps for children in families living above and below the poverty line used by the researchers were eight months for vocabulary and nine months for school readiness.

“Assessments that we have since carried out, at age 5 and age 7, have confirmed that many of the children who were behind at age 3 have been continuing to score poorly,” said Professor Joshi, of the Institute of Education, University of London. “Providing additional help for disadvantaged children at age 2 could therefore result in some valuable, long-term gains.”

The analyses of children’s assessment scores were conducted by researchers at the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, which is based at the Institute of Education.

The Millennium Cohort Study is tracking children born in 2000–2 in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Further information

David Budge

Centre for Longitudinal Studies

07881 415362

Notes for editors

  1. The Centre for Longitudinal Studies is an Economic and Social Research Council Resource Centre based at the Institution of Education. The Centre houses three internationally-renowned birth cohort studies: the 1958 National Child Development Study, the 1970 British Cohort Study and the Millennium Cohort Study. The Millennium Cohort Study is co-funded by a number of government departments.
  2. The second sweep of the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS2) collected information from 15,590 families of children born across the UK in 2000–2 when they reached the age of three. Almost all of these families (14,898) had been in the first survey when the children were nine-months-old. An additional 692 families were recruited for the second survey in England who had been eligible for the first survey but not included. The study’s first sweep, carried out during 2001–2, laid the foundations for this major new longitudinal research resource, involving a year-long cohort of around 19,000 babies. It recorded the circumstances of pregnancy and birth, the all-important early months of life, and the social and economic backgrounds of the families into which the children were born. The second survey data allow researchers for the first time to chart the changing circumstances of these children and their families and offer some direct measurements of the children’s development at the age of three which can be related to their earlier experiences. The sample was designed to provide adequate numbers from areas with high proportions of minority-ethnic residents (in England) and high child poverty, as well as each country in the UK.
  3. Three-year-olds who were assessed as part of MCS2 took the British Ability Scales (BAS) Naming Vocabulary subtest, which is part of a suite of cognitive tests designed for children aged between three and 17 years. The test is individually administered. The interviewer asks the child to name a series of pictures of everyday items. There are 36 items in total, although the number each child is asked about is dependent on their performance. The assessment is terminated if five successive items are answered incorrectly. BAS assesses the expressive language ability of children. It was not administered to children who do not speak English.
  4. School readiness was assessed using six subtests of the Revised Bracken Basic Concept Scale, which measures children’s knowledge of those ‘readiness’ concepts that parents and teachers traditionally teach children in preparation for formal education. The test has been designed for children in the age range of two-and-a-half to seven years and 11 months. Up to 15 per cent of an ability range can be classified as “delayed”. The six subtests comprise the assessment of children’s basic concepts such as colours, letters, numbers/counting, sizes, comparisons and shapes. This test is also individually administered. As a non-verbal test, requiring the child to point, but not speak, it could be given in oral translation to children who do not speak English. Both cognitive assessments were administered using Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing by interviewers who were specially trained but were not professional psychologists.
  5. The poverty threshold used in the Millennium Cohort Study was 60 per cent of national median net income before housing costs. This resembles the conventional relative poverty line used in the government’s Households Below Average Income series but does not reproduce this measure exactly. The MCS measure of equivalised family income gives greater weight to the costs of young children and is based on family rather than household income (the latter could include the income of other adults in the household).

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