Page last updated at 13:47 GMT, Friday, 29 August 2008 14:47 UK

Pre-school 'gives maths boost'

The academics looked at achievement in maths

Going to a good pre-school nursery boosts a child's chances of achieving in maths at the age of 10, experts say.

But the long-term UK study by academics found the biggest influence on a child's achievement in maths at 10 was the education of their mother.

However, they found that going to a good pre-school or primary school and playing word and number games at home also had a big effect.

They say what they call a good "home learning environment" is crucial.

The research - led by Professor Edward Melhuish from Birkbeck, University of London - is published in the journal Science.

The academics looked at the progress of children in the UK from the age of three or four up to 10, and measured it against various factors.

They ranked the children's "home learning environments" after interviewing their parents about how often they did various activities, such as reading stories, singing nursery rhymes and playing games involving numbers and shapes.

They included other possible factors which could influence a child's development such as gender and parents' income, occupation and education.

Strongest effect

"The results indicated that home learning environment, pre-school effectiveness and primary school effectiveness all make separate, significant impacts," said Professor Melhuish.

"The mother's educational attainment is the strongest effect, there's no doubt about that, but home and school and pre-school environments are also important."

He said that the researchers found many examples where a mother's lower level of education was more than made up for by parents creating a good home learning environment through the activities they did with their children.

"And there are quite a few well-educated people who do not provide a good home learning environment," he added.

The report's authors - from four institutions - pointed to the way China is investing in pre-school education for all in efforts to achieve its economic goals.

In England, all three- and four-year-olds are entitled to a part-time place at nursery school. The Westminster government sees early years education as a vital step in lifting children out of poverty.

Professor Melhuish said although a mother's education and the family's socio-economic status were key factors, the study showed how focussing on aspects of a child's life which could be changed - such as access to good nursery and primary schools - could improve their education and chances in life.

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