The latest evidence on children's development
Press release issued: 1 December 2006
In the Autumn 2006 issue of Research in Public Policy, leading experts look at the latest evidence on three key aspects of children’s development – health, behavioural and cognitive development – and their impact on educational attainment and hence ‘life chances’.
Among the findings:
- Poor children suffer worse health than richer children and health problems in children damage their future prospects – and those of their children.
- Differences in children’s health at birth have serious long-term consequences.
- Inequality in access to higher education is a key driver of the recent decline in intergenerational mobility – children’s ‘life chances’ – in the UK.
- Non-cognitive traits, such as self-esteem and concentration, are also increasingly important drivers of educational attainment and hence intergenerational mobility.
- High quality in early education programmes is essential for improving child outcomes.
- Children who attend pre-school start school at a cognitive advantage but exhibit more anti-social and worried behaviour.
- The evidence that parenting programmes change child outcomes is weak.
Children's health and later life outcomes
Janet Currie shows that children’s health matters not just in its own right but also for its influence on their educational development. She notes that many adverse health outcomes are in place at birth: premature babies, low birth weight and smoking during pregnancy are all associated with poorer educational development even comparing siblings with the same parents and home environment.
Poor health conditions are also strongly socially graded: more affluent children are far less likely to have chronic health conditions, have far fewer injuries and more likely to be carried to term and to not be low birth weight. The incidence of abuse and neglect seems to be higher in families headed by teen parents, single mothers and mothers with poor mental health. All of these ‘risk factors’ are more common in poor families.
Life chances: accounting for falling intergenerational mobility
Research has shown that circumstances of birth play a substantial and increasing role in children’s ‘life chances’ in the UK. Paul Gregg and colleagues are now digging deeper to explore the roles of ability, education and non-cognitive skills in explaining why ‘intergenerational mobility’ is low and falling.
Mental health problems, such as ADHD, are important for children’s educational development. But Gregg also finds that other non-cognitive traits such as self-esteem, personal efficacy (beliefs that your own actions can make a difference rather than luck or fate) and ability to concentrate are also major drivers of educational attainment.
Furthermore, he shows how these factors are increasingly important drivers of intergenerational mobility as they have become more socially graded. In contrast, IQ, sometimes seen as a measure of innate ability, is playing a smaller role in children’s attainment and life chances.
Early years policy
The UK’s 2006 Childcare Act, which promises high quality childcare and other services for children under five, seeks both to improve outcomes for all children and to close the gaps between disadvantaged children and the rest. Jane Waldfogel looks at the impact of early childcare and parenting programmes on health, behavioural and cognitive development.
The evidence that centre-based childcare can have beneficial effects on reading and maths scores has been commonly demonstrated, but quality of childcare is paramount. Low cost childcare can result in adverse outcomes, especially for behaviour. Quality means well-qualified staff and small class sizes with a clear focus on learning.
The government has initiated a ten-year strategy to expand childcare and early years support for parents. This initiative is bold but the lessons are clear that health and behaviour need to be as central as early literacy and numeracy for the programmes to maximise their potential benefits; and the quality of childcare settings is paramount for the prospects of the programme to advance the life chances of poor children.