Never mind getting a place at Oxbridge – a child’s future earnings can be significantly improved by the quality of their teachers at the age of four, according to new research.
The researchers used Department for Education (DfE) databases to connect adults’ earnings to the reception classes attended. The results highlight the outsized influence of early years’ education, finding that one in 40 primary schools in England produce entire classes likely to gain more money than their peers.
The study, published by the DfE and Durham university, estimates that the top 2.5% of reception classes add higher lifetime earnings averaging between £2,000 to £7,500 a pupil, even after adjusting for factors such as family circumstances, ethnicity and language.
Prof Peter Tymms, one of the authors from Durham’s school of education, said while previous research had shown that “exceptional teaching” in reception had a long-term impact on exam results, the new study predicts that advantage extends to earnings in later life.
“Many will be surprised to see this but it shows the importance of great teachers working with young children,” Tymms said.
The researchers used assessments of children at the beginning and end of their reception year to identify classes as “effective”, where children made significantly more progress in learning than average. They then used databases tracing pupils’ reception attainment to their GCSE results, linked to DfE data on GCSE results predicting adult earnings, to produce their findings.
If accurate, the research suggests that more than 400 out of England’s 16,800 state primary schools with the most effective teaching give an additional boost to about 11,000 pupils each year.
“In addition to the potential boost in earnings, the social and economic returns from investments in high-quality reception classes may also be much larger than the study’s estimates, especially for disadvantaged pupils,” the report concluded.
The authors cautioned against “an overly strong causal interpretation” of the study’s results, despite their efforts to account for background characteristics such as social and economic class. They also admitted that making predictions based on historic earnings data may not hold up, “as the labour market in the coming decades could look very different”.
James Bowen, director of policy for the National Association of Head Teachers, said the report showed how crucial the early years of a child’s education are crucial to their life chances.
“While we should not be trying to ‘hothouse’ young children, it is clear that great teachers in reception classes make a real difference.
“However, we also need to recognise that the years before a child enters reception are just as important, and the challenges some children face start well before they arrive at school,” Bowen said.
“If children are to thrive in their first years in school, families need access to high-quality early years education for their children, as well as access to any support services they need.
“Sadly, too many families are unable to access these vital services, meaning children don’t always receive the early intervention and support that could make such a difference.”
A DfE spokesperson said: “Early literacy and numeracy can improve life chances and findings from this analysis report show the importance of investing in maths and English in primary schools.
“Our approach as a government over the last decade has been on raising standards, particularly in primary schools which is why we have introduced the phonics screening and multiplication tables checks, to improve children’s fluency in literacy and mathematics.”