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Universal childcare improves school readiness of immigrant children

Posted on 2 July 2018

Attending universal childcare from age three significantly improves the school readiness of children from immigrant and disadvantaged family backgrounds, say researchers.

Attending universal childcare had clear beneficial effects

The study, which looked at German school entry exam data, also shows that immigrant children and children from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to attend childcare at age three. 

The researchers, from the University of York, University College London, and Queen Mary, University of London, say, however, that the same universal childcare, only has a modest impact on the school readiness of children from advantaged backgrounds. 

Professor Thomas Cornelissen, from the University of York's Department of Economics said: “Attending childcare from age three onwards largely eliminates differences in school readiness between immigrant and native children, and between children from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds.

"Yet, children from immigrant and disadvantaged backgrounds, are substantially less likely to enter early childcare. This means that those children who are most likely to benefit, are those that typically are less likely to attend.”

Economic factors

There are several factors that help to explain why children from immigrant and disadvantaged families are less likely to attend childcare, despite high gains. Parents from immigrant and lower socio-economic backgrounds may be more critical of pre-school programmes and may not be adequately informed about the positive effects of early childcare attendance.

Cost is also a factor, as fees relative to household income tend to be higher for families from low socio-economic backgrounds. In addition, universal childcare may be more popular among native parents from higher socio-economic backgrounds as they are more likely to work and therefore use childcare to replace home care. 

Reform in England

Although conducted for Germany, the study has important implications for a reform recently introduced in England that expanded free childcare for three and four year olds from 15 to 30 hours per week, but only for children of working parents.

The research suggests that this policy is unlikely to draw those children into childcare who would benefit the most and may therefore not succeed in improving children’s outcomes.

Professor Cornelissen said: “Our results imply that policies that tie free childcare to mothers’ employment status, such as the 30 hour free childcare policy in England, may not draw those children into childcare who would benefit the most, although such policies may of course be effective in fulfilling other goals, such as incentivising mothers to return to work and promoting gender equality in the labour market."

The research is based on administrative data from compulsory German school entry examinations for the years 1994 to 2002. The authors exploit a large expansion in childcare places during the 1990s caused by a German reform, which entitled every child to a highly-subsidised part-time childcare place from the third birthday until school entry, in order to identify a causal relationship.

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About this research

The research is published in the Journal of Political Economy in collaboration with University College London and Queen Mary, University of London. To access the full paper visit Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration pages.

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