Attending a good pre-school and primary has more impact on children's academic progress than their gender or family background, researchers claimed today.
The Institute of Education study found that the quality of teaching children receive is more important than their gender or family income.
A high quality pre-school followed by an academically effective primary school gives children's development a significant boost, the researchers found.
But they said children also need a stimulating early years home-learning environment to build upon.
While all children benefit from a good pre-school, high quality is particularly important for children with special educational needs, those with mothers with low qualifications or children who come from unstimulating homes, the project found.
At primary school, the quality of teaching affects both children's social behaviour and intellectual development.
The researchers found much variation in the quality of teaching at age 10 and said this had a more powerful impact on children's academic progress than their gender or whether or not they receive free school meals.
Children who attend a more academically effective primary school show better attainment and progress in key stage 2 (ages 7 to 11) than children with similar characteristics who attend a less effective school, they said.
Going to a highly academically effective primary school gives a particular boost to very disadvantaged children.