Parents who teach their children at home could have twice the impact on raising their child's performance at school compared to a good nursery education, a new study suggests.

There have been rising concerns about the relatively low numbers of children taking up science and mathematics at the secondary level and evidence is published today that parents could have a much bigger impact on raising standards later on than preschool education, by a Government backed project following more than 3000 children.

Ten-year-olds who have attended "high quality" preschool tend to score higher on mathematics tests than those who haven't, reports Prof Edward Melhuish of Birkbeck, University of London, and colleagues from the Effective provision of Preschool and Primary Education (EPPE) project.

He said they were surprised by the degree to which early experience both in the preschool and home were so influential later in the child's life.

"For the average child who went to a particularly effective or high quality preschool their maths scores would be boosted by around 27 per cent," says Prof Melhuish.

However, the project revealed that the education of the parents – particularly the mother- still has the greatest influence, having twice the effect and thus boosting maths scores even more.

What parents did at home mattered too. "The effects of the early home learning environment were very strong, much stronger than people had anticipated."

"An ideal home learning environment would be rich in stimulation and very responsive to the child's communications and activities," says Prof Melhuish.

"Parents would talk to their children frequently, read to them, maybe visit library to increase range of books for child, provide opportunities to draw, paint, learn songs and rhymes, dance and physical activities, play with numbers and shapes.

The important thing is that the home provides lots of learning opportunities, The fact that learning is taking place is more important than the actual content of the learning. This provides the child with the mental structures needed to learn new things."

The team calls in the journal Science for countries such as America to adopt universal preschool, which might cost up to £5000 per child, of the kind adopted in Britain since 2004.

Whereas much of the previous research on preschool's long-term effects focused on disadvantaged children, the researchers followed children from throughout England, from ages three and four through to age 10, and is still studying them at secondary school.

"This detailed data allows us to examine the effects of various factors while allowing for the differences in the other factors and backgrounds of children," says Prof Melhuish.

"Our study is the first to show that preschool shows advantages across the whole population, while being able to allow for other confounding factors."

The home environment is the most important; five years of "effective" primary school is next most important but is closely followed by 18 months of preschool experience in terms of relative size of effects.

"Preschool particularly high quality preschool boosts children's development in several ways when children start school and these early effects persist particularly for the children who went to high quality preschools. In addition good quality teaching in primary school also matters.

"So a child who has a good home learning environment, good preschool and good primary school will do better than a child with only two who will do better than a child who has one who will do better than a child who has none of these.

"The difference between a child's development with all three compared to none is very great."

As for what parents should look for when chosing a preschool, he says: "A play-based curriculum that offers lots of learning opportunities that cover reading and play with numbers and shapes and some time in individual, one-to-one activities as well as small group work".

Starting "between two and three can be very beneficial, particularly for children from disadvantaged homes."

Source:, United Kingdom