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Public slow to recognise the educational benefits of early years settings

The latest annual British Social Attitudes survey on attitudes to education and children’s services reveals that the most commonly perceived benefit of nursery or pre-school is interaction and socialisation with others. Only a minority of respondents thought that main benefit of nursery for both under threes and three- and four-year-olds is educational development. 

The survey focused primarily on group early years settings such as nurseries and pre-schools. However, when asked about the main reason they thought parents of children under five use childcare, including a private nursery or childminder, the majority of respondents (86%) said it was so parents could work. Only 12% said it was because it is of benefit to the child.

Key findings around pre-school care and education include:

  • The most commonly cited main advantage for a child under three to attend nursery was that it is good for children to interact and socialise with others (41% of respondents). Around one in ten (11%) said it was because it helps a child’s education development, and a similar proportion (10%) said it is good for developing their confidence and independence. Other main advantages included enabling parents to work (cited by 12% of respondents).
  • For children aged three to four the most commonly cited main advantages of attending nursery included interaction and socialisation (28%), preparing children for school (21%), and helping educational development (17%).
  • While two-fifths (40%) of respondents felt that there were no disadvantages in sending children under three to nursery, the main disadvantages that were cited included children picking up bad habits (18%), children being too young to leave their parents (16%), and children not getting enough individual attention at nursery (11%).
  • For children aged three to four, half of the respondents (50%) felt there were no disadvantages to attending nursery, but main disadvantages cited included children picking up bad habits (20%) and not getting enough individual attention (11%).
  • When asked about the main reason they thought parents of children under five use childcare (such as a private nursery or childminder), the majority (86%) said it was so parents could work, and only 12% said it was because it is of benefit to the child.