Increasing the amount of early years education a child receives at a given time. Most commonly extra hours are provided by switching from half-day to full-day provision. For an assessment of the evidence related to starting early years education at a younger age, see “Earlier starting age”.
How effective is it?
Findings from studies that compare full-day early years provision to half-day provision are mixed. Evidence from the Effective Provision of Pre-school Education (EPPE) project in the UK found that, on average, children who received full day provision did not have higher early reading or numeracy outcomes compared to those who only attended for a half-day. However, some studies from the USA indicated that there was a moderate positive effect of attending full-day rather than half-day kindergarten. Across all studies, the average impact is approximately equivalent to three additional months’ progress.
There are also some indications that any learning gains related to extra hours may not be sustained into primary school unless the quality of provision in the extended time is of a high quality. The EPPE study suggested that one of the strongest predictors of attainment in schools at 11 is the presence of an effective reception teacher, and this finding is consistent with a number of US studies where short term improvements related to extra hours appear to “wash out” in primary school.
However, it is also possible that benefits related to extra hours vary between different groups of children. In the US studies, children from disadvantaged backgrounds benefitted more than their peers from full-day provision. Though, on average, the EPPE study did not find full-day provision to be associated with increased learning, for disadvantaged learners increasing the total number of hours in early years education was associated with greater progress.
It is not possible to tell from existing evidence whether providing extra hours is a more promising strategy for three-year olds or four-year olds.
How secure is the evidence?
There is a moderate amount of evidence about extra hours, but findings are not consistent. The most robust evidence in terms of study design comes from trials in the USA. However, in these studies children are most commonly aged 5, which may make it difficult to draw secure conclusions about the impact of extra hours on three and four year olds. In addition, there may be differences between the US and other contexts that could result in different outcomes. Overall, the evidence base is limited.
The highest quality UK evidence comes from the EPPE project. The study looked at the association between different kinds of pre-school provision and young children’s learning, and involved 3,000 children. However, its correlational design means that it cannot rule out some alternative explanations for its finding that half-day provision is as effective full-day provision.
Given the high cost of increasing the number of hours of provision, particularly moving from half- to full-day, it would be important to evaluate the impact of any activity in this area.
What are the costs?
Overall, the costs are estimated as very high. A full time pre-school place costs about £4,000 more than a half-time place for 40 weeks, or approximately an additional £100 per week. Given the high cost and mixed evidence, it is likely that focusing on improving the quality of provision before considering changing the amount of provision within the day is a promising strategy.
What should I consider?
Before you implement this strategy in your learning environment, consider the following:
The evidence on full-day versus half-day provision is not conclusive.
If you are planning to provide extra hours, how will you ensure that the quality of provision in this time remains high?
How will you assess the short and medium term impact of offering extra hours?
Are you confident that you have done everything you can to improve the quality of provision in your setting before considering offering extra hours?