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Children who go to nursery full-time 'become antisocial'.

Alexandra Frean 5th April 2007

Children in full-time nursery care are more likely to display antisocial tendencies and anxiety than those who stay at home or attend part-time, a government study has found.

An evaluation of a £370 million government neighbourhood nurseries scheme found that toddlers spending more than seven hours a day in daycare were more prone to be bossy, tease other children, stamp their feet, obstruct other playmates and get anxious when toys or refreshments were being handed round.

The research, from the University of Oxford and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, has reignited the debate on whether overexposure to formal childcare is bad for children, and is likely to spark fresh concerns over whether government pressure on new parents to return to work is eroding family life.

The results coincided yesterday with a warning from teachers that children were in danger of becoming institutionalised as a result of government plans to offer “wraparound” daycare that would allow pupils to spend 50 hours a week in school. Under the Government’s “extended services” agenda, all schools will have to open from 8am to 6pm to give state school pupils the same opportunities as those in the private sector.

Cecily Hanlon, a nursery level teacher from Leeds, questioned whether the policy was alienating children from their families.

“It is possible to access full daycare from the age of three months and then spend most of childhood there,” she told the annual conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in Bournemouth.

“Will the extended schools agenda and the increasing provision of holiday pay schemes further erode family ties? Are parents being led to believe that the best thing for their children is to be in peer groups looked after by other people?”

Richard Martin, of Invicta Grammar School in Leeds, said the debate was not about criticising working parents. He supported a motion passed by the conference calling for more research on the effects of the Government’s extended services policies.

“It does worry me when you hear stories of infants of only a few months being cared for in a nursery for ten hours a day, five days a week, 48 weeks a year,” he said.

Shirley Crowther, of Sow-erby village Church of England primary school in Calderdale, West Yorkshire, was concerned about the pressure on parents to use wraparound childcare. “It’s the parents who should be wrapping their children in their loving arms and not expect other people to do it for them,” she said.

But Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, said that it was “ludicrous” to suggest that mothers were harming their children by going to work.

Expanding childcare provision and subsidies was a way of ensuring that children from deprived backgrounds got the best start in life, he said. He did not accept that all mothers should stay at home to look after their children and said that two years of good early care could boost development by up to six months at the age of 5.

“What we are trying to do is to ensure that parents, mothers in particular, have a choice . . . and have an opportunity to combine their professional life with other commitments,” he said.

There has been a long line of reports suggesting that children who spend a long time in daycare are more likely to show behavioural problems.

The latest study, led by Kathy Sylva and Sandra Mathers at the University of Oxford, examined 810 children in 100 neighbourhood nurseries and identified a “tipping point” in time spent at daycare for behavioural issues. Children who attended for 30 hours or more a week were rated as more antisocial, while children who attended for 35 hours or more displayed more worried and upset behaviour.

The report said that putting toddlers in mixed age groups was upsetting for the emotional adjustment of those aged under 3½. Teresa Smith, one of the report’s principal researchers, said that parents should not be too anxious about the findings as there were some positives. Children who spent a long time in daycare tended to be more confident and sociable.

Worrying signs

The study looked at the behaviour of 810 children in 100 neighbourhood nurseries (some local authority, some private, some voluntary sector). Carers were asked to complete detailed questionnaires about the children in their care. Children who were in care for 30 hours a week or more were more likely to exhibit the following behaviour:


- Tease other children and call them names

- Prevent other children carrying out routines

- Be bossy and need their own way

Worried or upset

- Frown, shrug shoulders, pout, stamp their feet when given an idea

- Be worried about not getting enough attention

- Be anxious about not getting enough access to toys or food and drink

On the plus side, these children were also more confident and sociable

Source: Department of Educational Studies, University of Oxford

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