Nurseries not harmful to children, says new UK study

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A new study by a professor at the University of Oxford has concluded that attending nursery school does not have harmful effects upon "the vast majority" of children under two years old. The research contrasts with the views of other writers in the field, who argue that pre-school children achieve the best results when cared for by their parents full-time.

Kathy Sylva, Professor of Educational Psychology at the university, has based her findings upon data from the Effective Provision of Pre-School Education Project. This has been running since 1996, tracking the development of 3,000 children to discover the effects upon their development of pre-school care and education.

Sylva told The Sunday Times that "[a] lot of parents worry unnecessarily about this issue but my research shows that the vast majority of children are not impaired on any measure by attending nursery under the age of two", although she admits that there is an increased risk for children from deprived background, and for boys. Those attending better-quality nurseries go on to make better relationships when they start school, she says, and urges parents to check the standards of nurseries for themselves.

Her conclusions come in the wake of a vast expansion in nursery care provision in the United Kingdom in recent years, aimed at getting mothers of young children back to work. One study states that 5% of "middle-class" parents in Britain put their children in full-time nursery care.

According to others such as the child psychologist Oliver James, however, full-time care by parents gives the best results for children. James states that there is evidence that nursery care is "highly stressful and can be harmful", since levels of the hormone cortisol double after one hour in day care, and raised levels can be detected for some months afterwards. Sylva agrees, though, that some children who attend nursery before they are two are slightly more aggressive at primary school – a finding in line with other research – but says that this aggression disappears by the time the child reaches eleven.

Sylva, a Professorial Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford, was awarded the OBE in 2008. She is a former special advisor to the UK House of Commons and the Scottish Parliament.


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