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Our Trustee Professor Gabriella Conti of UCL who was awarded the Philip Leverhulme Award for Economics and the Nick Hales Award during 2019, has recently been investigating the long-term results of national early years programmes. 

The findings of her IFS study into Sure Start’s effects on children’s health during their primary school years from its start in 1999 and its peak in the late 2000s have attracted great interest.  

‘Big benefits for health. We find that Sure Start had big health benefits. Increasing children’s access to Sure Start by adding an extra centre per 1,000 under-fives (about its peak coverage in 2010) reduces hospitalisations at age 11 by 18 per cent of their pre-Sure Start level. That’s equivalent to preventing around 5,500 hospitalisations of 11-year-olds annually.

But not all neighbourhoods benefit from Sure Start. While there are big falls in hospitalisations in the poorest 30 per cent of areas, there doesn’t seem to be any effect on hospital admissions in the richest 30 per cent of neighbourhoods. This means that Sure Start can help to reduce inequalities in hospitalisation rates: we estimate that it closed around half of the gap between these groups at age 11.

One of the surprising findings in our report is that these benefits not only persist as children get older; they get bigger. For example, hospital admissions related to injuries fell by 17 per cent at younger ages, but by 30 per cent at ages 10 and 11. Although our research can’t pinpoint exactly how these benefits come about, these long-lasting and growing impacts suggest that the impacts need to come from changes that persist even after children have ‘aged out’ of Sure Start. For example, possible channels include improvements in parenting or in children’s behaviour.’

Sarah Cattan,  Gabriella Conti,  Christine Farquharson and  Rita Ginja

Independent 4.6.19

A Sure Start children’s centre bus in Newmarket