Oxford University researchers who were involved in the Effective Pre-School, Primary and Secondary (EPPSE) project found that children who had had an early education at nursery or preschool were more likely to get better GCSE results - the equivalent of getting seven Bs compared to seven Cs.
The research found an early education particularly helped boost grades in GCSE English and maths. The effects were even more marked if the preschool was of high quality and the value of a preschool education was particularly important for children from less advantaged backgrounds, say the researchers.
The EPPSE project launched in 1997 and has followed 3,000 children from early childhood to the age of 16. The research was carried out by leading academics from Oxford, the Institute of Education, and Birbeck, University of London.
Kathy Sylva, Professor of Educational Psychology at Oxford University, one of the lead researchers, said: 'The EPPSE study is unique because it provides valuable evidence in Europe on the long term value of preschool, something no other research has done. The results are clear: early education pays off, and high quality preschool education gives children the very best start in life. High quality early education has enduring benefits for the children who experience it and also the society that invests in it'.