The success of the free preschool year is captured in a report that shows one in four low-income parents would not otherwise have been in a position to avail of early years education for their child.
The finding is contained in The lives of five-year-olds, the latest report in the ongoing research series Growing up in Ireland.
Interviews with more than 9,000 families showed almost all five-year-olds had availed of the free preschool year scheme, with 39% of low-income parents most likely to report that they would not otherwise have been able to send their child to preschool (39% v 9% in the highest income group).
At the time of the home interview in spring/summer 2013, 70% of the five-year-olds had started school the previous September (2012).
Generally, boys started school a little later than girls. The most common reason for delaying school start until September 2013 given by parents was ‘I thought child was too young’.
Parental ratings of preschool facilities tended to be positive overall, especially in terms of the richness of the environment.
Teachers’ ratings of individual children on different subjects found boys were more likely than girls to be rated as below average in speaking and listening in English (18% vs 11%) and Irish (22% vs 15%) but there was no significant gender difference in maths and numeracy.
Based on a series of questions to parents on whether the five-year-old had difficulties in any of the areas of emotions, concentration, behaviour or being able to get on with other people, 81% reported no difficulties.
Parents tended to report very positively on their feelings of being close to the child, with low levels of conflict. However, parents who reported less positive relationships with the child at age three were less likely to be positive about how they got on with the same child at age five.
Most five-year-olds were reported by their mothers to be in good health. However the report notes that “as noted in previous waves of Growing Up in Ireland, the percentage of five-year-olds who were overweight continues to be of concern”.
Children whose parents were also overweight were at greater risk.
The report’s authors say it “highlights that children in families living in socio-economic disadvantage are already at greater risk of poor outcomes in areas as diverse as health, overweight/obesity, socio-emotional difficulties and school-readiness”.
Aisling Murray, the report’s lead author, said, it shows “that while most children are doing well at home and in school, some early inequalities in child outcomes are already detectable in health, learning and well-being and, unfortunately, these may continue as the child grows up”