Contributions of early childhood education to age-14 performance

Publication Details

This report adds to the research literature on the effects of early childhood education (ECE) by providing findings that show how differences in ECE experience are reflected in differences in performance at age 14, for the Competent Children, Competent Learners sample. In general, the difference between those who had the highest or most level of a particular aspect of ECE experience and others was around 9 percentage points (out of 100), which is a reasonable size difference.

Author(s): Cathy Wylie, Hilary Ferral, Edith Hodgen and Jean Thompson, New Zealand Council for Educational Research.

Date Published: 2006

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Executive Summary

Family resource factors (income and maternal qualification) make more of a difference, partially because they are continuing elements in a child’s life as they move through school, but ECE experience continue to make a difference once these are taken into account. ECE experience appears to make most of its contribution by the time children start school, but a continuing contribution was still evident at age 14 after taking age-5 performance, family income, and maternal qualification into account.

The main findings:

  • Children who started ECE between the ages of 1 and 2 had higher scores than those starting after age 3, and those who had less than 24 months’ ECE experience had lower scores than others for attitudinal competencies (e.g. communication, perseverance, self-management).
  • Five aspects of ECE quality had the most marked long-term effect. Children who had experienced high-quality in these aspects had higher scores for cognitive and attitudinal competencies than others. Most of these aspects were related to the interaction between ECE staff and children, which depends on staff knowledge as well as their approach.

These aspects of ECE quality were:

Staff responsive to children
higher scores for those whose final centre scored 4 or more on scale of 5

Staff guide children in activities
higher scores for those whose final centre scored 4.2 or more on scale of 5

Staff ask children open-ended questions
Increases with centre score
higher scores for those whose final centre scored 3.33 or more on scale of 5

Staff join children in their play
higher scores for those whose final centre scored 4 or more on scale of 5

Children can select activities from a variety of learning areas
higher scores for those whose final centre scored 5 out of 5 (attitudinal)


Children had lower scores if their final ECE service was lower in quality than others in terms of:

Provision of “print-saturated” environment
lower scores for those whose final centre scored less than 3 on scale of 5
  • Children who attended an ECE service where most of the children were from middle-class families had higher mathematics and reading scores.
  • There were no negative contributions to age-14 (or earlier) competency scores from attending two or more ECE services concurrently, or attending one that the parent thought had had some negative aspects for their child.


An overview of the current picture of research into the effects of early childhood education is given in the report to show how these findings are consistent with other studies. The consistency of findings points to the importance of providing high-quality staff:child interaction and a reasonable level of print-use in ECE services, in order to improve student performance and ensure that fewer children start school with low levels of performance. This is particularly important for services for children from low-income homes.

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