Early Environments and Child Outcomes: An Analysis Commission

Project Details


This report was commissioned by the Independent Review on Poverty and Life Chances, led by Frank Field MP, which reported in December 2010. Its purpose was to inform the Review's recommendations on the adoption of a set of official Life Chances Indicators.

The aim of the proposed indicators was to measure annual progress at a national level on a range of factors in young children which we know to be predictive of children’s future outcomes, and so provide a metric for assessing how successful we are as a country in making more equal life’s outcomes for all children.
The aims of the analysis were to:
 Test the predictive power of the key drivers identified by the Review for children’s cognitive, behavioural, social and emotional, and health outcomes at age five.
 Model the extent to which varying the key drivers predicts the gap in children’s outcomes at age five, between those from low income households and the mainstream.
 Examine the association between indicators of children’s environments measured in the first five years of life and their GCSE performance at the end of compulsory schooling.

The analysis drew on two data sources. First, predictors of age five outcomes are assessed using the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) – a nationally representative survey of around 19,000 children born in the UK in 2000/01. Second, early
predictors of educational achievement at age 16 were assessed using the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) – a population-based survey of around 14,000 children born in the Avon area of England in 1991/2.

Key findings

Overall, the analysis found that the key drivers – such as home learning environment, mother’s educational qualifications, positive parenting, maternal mental health and mother’s age at birth of first child – as well as demographic and family characteristics, explain a significant proportion of the variance in children’s cognitive, behavioural, social and emotional, and general health outcomes at age five. While the majority of variance remains unexplained, these proportions are comparable with similar types of analyses conducted in this area.

All of the key drivers were found to have some predictive power, although no single group could explain the income-related gap in any of the outcomes at age five on its own. There were, however, some differences in the relative importance of drivers across different outcomes. For example, parental education and home learning environment emerged as relatively strong predictors of children’s cognitive outcomes, while parental sensitivity and parental mental health were strong predictors of children’s social and emotional outcomes. Varying the key drivers so that children from low income households had levels comparable with the average for other children was found to predict virtually all of the difference in children’s outcomes at age five. No single driver was found to predict these gaps,
rather, it was a result of the cumulative effect of varying all the key drivers.

Analysis of GCSE performance using the ALSPAC data shows that around 32% of the variation in attainment at 16 can predicted on the basis of indicators observed at or before the age of five. Varying the key drivers for low-income children to average levels experienced by the higher 80% of the income distribution predicts an improvement of over six grades at GCSE in total, or around 60% of the observed difference in GCSE performance between the low-income group and the rest.
Effective start/end date1/09/1031/12/10

Structured keywords

  • SoE Centre for Multilevel Modelling


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