It doesn’t matter to get a place at Oxbridge — a child’s future earnings can be significantly improved by the quality of their teachers at age four, according to new research.
The researchers used Department for Education (DfE) databases to link adults’ earnings to reception classes attended. The results highlight the outrageous influence of early childhood education, finding that one in 40 primary schools in England produce whole classes that are likely to earn more money than their peers.
The study, published by the DfE and the University of Durham, estimates that the top 2.5% of reception classes earn higher living wages, averaging between £2,000 and £7,500 per pupil, even after adjusting for factors such as family circumstances, ethnicity and language .
Professor Peter Tymms, one of the authors of Durham’s school of education, said that while previous research had shown that “exceptional education” at reception had a long-term effect on exam results, the new study predicted that the benefit extended to earnings later in life .
“Many will be surprised to see this, but it shows the importance of having great teachers who work with young children,” Tymms said.
The researchers used assessments of children at the beginning and end of their care year to identify classes as “effective” where children made significantly more progress than average. They then used databases that traced students’ reception levels to their GCSE results, coupled with DfE data on GCSE results predicting adults’ earnings, to produce their findings.
If accurate, the research suggests that more than 400 of England’s 16,800 state primary schools with the most effective teaching provide an extra boost to around 11,000 pupils each year.
“In addition to the potential income increase, the social and economic returns of investing in quality reception classes may also far exceed the study estimates, especially for disadvantaged students,” the report concludes.
The authors cautioned against “excessively strong causal interpretation” of the study’s results, despite their efforts to account for background characteristics such as social and economic class. They also admitted that making predictions based on historical earnings data may not hold up “as the job market could look very different in the coming decades”.
James Bowen, policy director for the National Association of Head Teachers, said the report shows how crucial a child’s early years of education are to their life chances.
“While we shouldn’t ‘breeze’ young children, it is clear that good teachers in reception classes really make a difference.
“However, we also need to recognize that the years before a child enters day care are just as important, and the challenges some children face start well before they start school,” Bowen said.
“If children are to thrive in school in their early years, families need access to quality early childhood education for their children, as well as access to all the support services they need.
“Unfortunately, too many families don’t have access to these vital services, which means children don’t always get the early intervention and support that can make such a difference.”
A DfE spokesperson said: “Early literacy and numeracy can improve life chances and the findings from this analysis report show the importance of investing in maths and English in primary schools.
“Our approach as a government over the past decade has been to raise standards, particularly in primary schools. That’s why we introduced phonetic screening and multiplication tables to improve children’s literacy and math skills.”