International Early Learning and Child Well-being Study (IELS)

Kelly Kettlewell, Caroline Sharp, Megan Lucas, Geeta Gambhir, Rachel Classick, Chris Hope, Charalambos Kollias and Simon Rutt

01 December 2020

    Research report on the website
NFER Summary Report
Participant summary

The International Early Learning and Child Well-being Study (IELS) is a study of 5-year-olds by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which aims to gather evidence about how to enrich a child’s first experiences of learning. It took place in England for the first time in 2018 and involved children, teachers and parents in England, Estonia and the United States.

IELS measured development in emergent literacy, emergent numeracy, self-regulation and social-emotional development. In England, a teacher-assessed module on physical development was added. Contextual information on the children, including background characteristics, their home learning environment and experience of early childhood education and care was also collected through parent and teacher questionnaires. In total a nationally representative sample of 2,517 children from 191 schools took part in England.

Key Findings

  • The development of 5-year-olds in England differed notably from the other two countries in two measures; emergent numeracy, in which children in England showed stronger development, and inhibition, in which children in England showed lower development.
  • Girls showed greater development than boys in emergent literacy, social-emotional and physical development, while boys showed greater development in inhibition. There was no difference between boys and girls for emergent numeracy.
  • Children identified as having special educational needs had lower average scores in all measures, except trust. Low birthweight was associated with lower physical and cognitive development, but not social-emotional development. Children eligible for free school meals showed lower development than their peers in all measures except for inhibition.
  • The home learning environment appears to be important; children whose parents/carers regularly supported them in certain activities at home (such as helping them to read words or sentences; or having back and forth conversations about the child’s feelings) showed greater development across a range of IELS measures compared to those children whose parents/carers did not engage in such activities.
  • Children who were highly persistent (meaning they continue with a task despite coming across obstacles) had greater development across all IELS measures. The differences were particularly pronounced for physical development, emergent literacy and mental flexibility.

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