Early education has increasingly been prioritised within OECD countries’ policy agenda, with a growing focus on early education’s potential to narrow the social class gaps in child development. The positive impact of early provision depends upon a number of factors, however – including the influence of the peers with whom a child interacts. Emerging evidence suggests that peers can directly influence children’s pre-academic skills, as well as affect the quality of the interactions between adults and children at group level.
This paper examines socio-economic segregation in early education in England. Drawing on administrative data, we analyse a cohort of three-and-four-year-olds who attended early education in 2011 (approximately 560,000 children). We investigate the distributions of children across settings according to income-level and find little evidence of segregation. We also examine the relationships between peer groups in early education and children’s development in the initial year of formal schooling. We find that children who are themselves low income and attend settings with fewer peers who are also low-income have better developmental assessments. However, this variation is largely eliminated once additional child-level characteristics, the characteristics of settings and of local areas are accounted for.