Evaluating the Impact of Nursery Attendance on Children’s Outcomes

This project investigated the impact of nursery education on children's cognitive and social development. It focused on the expansion in nursery education since 1998, which led to free part-time nursery education for three and four-year-olds and a large increase in the number of nursery places.

In January 2018 the project was launched with a report and event at the Nuffield Foundation on 11 January 2018. Click here to view the press release.


  • Free part-time nursery places for three-year-olds enabled some children to do better in assessments at the end of Reception, but overall educational benefits are small and do not last
  • Between 1999 and 2007, the proportion of three-year-olds in England benefitting from a free nursery place rose from 37% to 88%. However, for every four children given a free place, only one additional child began to use early education. For the other three children, the policy gave parents a discount on the early education that they would have paid for in any case
  • While there was modest evidence that the policy had more impact on the poorest, most disadvantaged children, the policy did not close the gap in attainment between those from richer and poorer families in the longer term
  • A weak relationship between the characteristics of PVI nurseries and children's outcomes was found. Children taught by a highly qualified staff member and those who attended settings rated as Outstanding by Ofsted scored slightly higher on the Foundation Stage Profile. However, the research found there were substantial unexplained differences in outcomes between nurseries
  • Eligibility for an additional term of free part-time early education results in a very small increase in outcomes at age five. There is some evidence that an extra term of entitlement is more beneficial for children who attend settings highly rated by Ofsted, but effects are still small.

Project outputs

Media coverage

This project has attracted considerable media attention including the BBC and The Telegraph and was discussed in a blog by The Family and Childcare Trust.


Stay connected


Twitter profile image for JoBlanden
And here we are. Masterful selfie taking by ⁦@antoniomele101https://t.co/t6YGphp89g
Twitter profile image for JoBlanden
On my up to graduation, always an enjoyable day. Congratulations to all our students. @economicssurrey
Twitter profile image for JoBlanden
#res2018 - the badge is off after an inspiring 3 days. https://t.co/2nJMvnngrp
Twitter profile image for JoBlanden
Not what I was expecting but fair play. https://t.co/mSPuMwqOUm

Contact us

  • Phone: +44 (0)1483 689380

Find us

Map of the University of Surrey
School of Economics
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
University of Surrey