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Education, Research

Narrowing the disadvantage gap: How home learning and self-regulation in the early years shape school attainment

A new study has found a clear links between low socioeconomic status (SES), the quality of the pre-school home learning environment, the ability of children to self-regulate and academic attainment in English and maths.

17 August 2023

By BPS Communications

Published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology, researchers on the study used the Effective Pre-school, Primary and Secondary Education (EPPSE)* dataset to study 2311 English children and found that children from a lower SES background had worse academic attainment in English and maths at age 11.

They discovered that children from a lower SES background experienced lower quality pre-school home learning environments, which impacted their ability to self-regulate, which subsequently affected their academic attainment at school.

The domino effect was clear with the quality of the pre-school home learning environment predicting children’s self-regulation skills.

Even when accounting for other variables, such as age and gender, socioeconomic disadvantage remained significantly associated with later academic attainment in English and maths at age 11.

Allen Joseph, lead researcher on the analysis, said:

“There is a wealth of evidence that children from low socio-economic backgrounds do less well at school, however we wanted to explore the links between the home learning environments, its subsequent impact on children’s self-regulation which in turn impact on academic attainment.

“We now know that the quality of the pre-school home learning environment impacts on a child’s ability to self-regulate in school which subsequently impacts on their academic attainment.

“Too many children, with heaps of potential, are being left behind through no fault of their own and we have to do better in terms of support for families, parents and schools to enable all children to flourish, regardless of background. This is even more important following the disruption to children’s education which we saw throughout the pandemic.

“More research is always needed, however the study provides initial evidence to show that if policy makers want to reduce SES-based inequalities in education, early interventions aimed at enhancing both the home learning environment and self-regulation may prove very beneficial.”

Additional information

  • *The EPPSE study was a longitudinal study following 3172 English children from ages 3-16 between 1997 and 2013 in five strategically selected local authorities (broadly balanced on socioeconomic disadvantage, rurality, and geographic region).
  • **Socioeconomic status (via socioeconomic disadvantage) was based on an index of low parental education, occupation, and income at age three.
  • Researchers used the Home Learning Environment Index to judge the quality of a pre-school home learning environment, with a score given based on parent interviews reporting the frequency of seven activities which were linked to learning, including: being read to, painting and drawing, going to the library, playing with letters and numbers, learning activities with the alphabet, learning activities with numbers or shapes, and playing with songs, poems or nursery rhymes.
  • Self-regulation was measured via the self-regulation subscale of the Child Social Behaviour Questionnaire at age four with teachers scoring a child on a scale based on their capacity to independently guide and control their actions and behaviour.


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