Bookstart and Cost Benefit Analysis

Bookstart has unique cost saving benefits
Bookstart has unique cost saving benefits

The full benefits generated by Bookstart are likely to be realised through the lifetime of participants as children go through schooling and engage with the outside world as adults.

Cost benefit analysis allows a comparison of programme costs against the full range of benefits generated over an extended time period. A review of cost benefit studies of other early intervention programmes gives an indication of the likely cost effectiveness of Bookstart.

With many of the benefits of early interventions like Bookstart achieved in later childhood and adult life it makes sense to employ a long term perspective in evaluating the cost effectiveness of these programmes. If the full worth of a programme is to be properly taken into account, early interventions need to be seen as an investment in the long term development of young children and their families. Costs are incurred early when programmes are started-up, but the benefits achieved are likely to increase as participant children go through education and enter into adult life. Some benefits are likely to arise early, for example, the emotional stability generated may reduce behavioural problems, which in turn, lessen strains on social services. But studies suggest that the point at which benefits exceed costs tends to come as the first generation of participants enter their late teens and early twenties. The full financial benefits of a head start in cognitive and emotional development are only realised as the participant begins to fully engage with the outside world.

In an attempt to capture the nature of these programmes as long term human capital investments researchers have employed cost-benefit analysis. These studies compare the financial costs of the programme against the short, medium and long term benefits measured in financial terms. The benefits to which monetary values can be attached include a range of ‘social’ benefits including, educational outcomes and skill development, health (physical and psychological) outcomes, behavioural outcomes (for example involvement with substance use or delinquency), employment outcomes (including earnings) and the economic and social well being of a local community. Monetary value of these benefits are calculated by considering the economic benefits of educational improvement and employment and the savings incurred as a result of diminished pressures on social services, remedial education, policing, the criminal justice system, etc, and the avoidance of  costs directly caused by crime and delinquency. From these calculations an assessment can be made of whether a programme over a full time scale is cost effective, and if so, what its total net benefits to society are.   

Using this methodology Steve Barnett’s analysis of the High/Scope Perry Preschool project tracking participants up to age 27 found that for every dollar spent on the programme it saved $7.16 in tax dollars (Barnett, 1996).  Using more stringent criteria, the RAND study of the same project reported an overall benefit-value of about 2 dollars for every dollar spent. A further cost-benefit analysis was conducted on the Abecedarian project in North Carolina, another early education intervention (Masse and Barnett, 2002). The study calculated a total benefit of four dollars for every dollar spent. Among the factors contributing to these savings was evidence that schools saved more than $11,000 per child because participants were less likely to require remedial education. And because participants were less likely to smoke (39% vs. 55% in the control group) related health benefits totalled $164,000 per person.

The Chicago Child-Parent Center Program (CPC) was also subject to a cost-benefit analysis (Reynolds, et al, 2001). The evaluation found that CPC pre-school involvement was linked to 29% higher high school completion, 42% lower arrests for violent crime, 41% reduction in special education and a 51% reduction in child abuse and neglect. Based on these results the study calculated that the programme costs $6,730 per child but returns to society $47,759 in savings from subsequent reductions in costs to society for poor educational and criminal outcomes. In total, these benefits amount to $7.10 for every dollar spent.  

A recent cost-benefit analysis of a UK early learning programme is provided by a evaluation of Early Excellence Centres (EECs). The study estimated the social service costs that one family who were regular users of a centre might entail if the centre had not been available. Estimating a total cost of £8,840 and comparing it to the cost per family of providing support at the EEC of £880, the study concludes that the benefits amount to £10 for every pound spent.

Cost benefit analysis of Bookstart

Longitudinal studies of the impact of Bookstart have demonstrated how the programme has lead to an improvement of language and literacy performance upon school entry at the age of four, Foundation Stage. Tracking children’s performance up to their Key Stage 1 assessment at age seven studies show how Bookstart children maintain this advantage throughout their first five years of primary education. Mean scores for a range of literacy and numeracy tests showed Bookstart children outperforming their non-Bookstart counterparts by between 1 and 5% (Wade and Moore, 2000). 

Studies have yet to track the progress of Bookstart children beyond the primary years. Nor have there been studies that translate the educational and emotional improvements generated by Bookstart into monetary figures. Nevertheless, there is good reason to suggest that Bookstart is likely to yield the type of long term benefits for participants that studies have observed for other early intervention programmes. Home-based intervention, where children benefit from a strong emotional bond with their parents, is known to be particularly effective in fostering long term developmental benefits. Where an intervention such as Bookstart successfully encourages the adoption of a learning-friendly environment in the home, children are likely to develop and maintain strong language, literacy and numeracy skills (Sylva, et al. 2003). As with other learning programmes, the grounding provided by Bookstart is likely to give children an enduring advantage over their counterparts in learning aptitude and their ability to face challenges encountered in their adult lives. Children who develop strong language and cognitive competencies as a result of Bookstart will be more predisposed to acquire the skills and demonstrate the emotional disposition that paves the way to a productive and responsible adult life. As with other early intervention programmes, Bookstart is likely in the long term to yield considerable savings as a result of educational and health gains, economic success, reduced criminal activity and reduced demand for social services. 

Bookstart’s unique cost saving benefits

An additional factor making Bookstart particularly cost effective is its low cost. While one advantage of the home setting is that it is particularly conducive to outcomes another is that it makes the programme much less expensive than other intervention programmes such as those based in nurseries. The books and guidance materials included in the Bookstart packs allow parents to engage with the children themselves therefore eliminating the high cost of professional involvement.

Further savings are acquired as a result of the public/private partnership nature of the programme. Bookstart benefits from the unique relationship its parent organistion, Booktrust, has with the publishing industry. This relationship ensures that sponsors from the children’s publishing industry provide generous support allowing Bookstart to deliver its programme at considerably reduced cost to the taxpayer.

The unique features of Bookstart, in particular its use of the home environment and use of the parents and carers as the agents of intervention, make it both cost effective and highly efficient in delivering outcomes. In conclusion, Bookstart has the potential to generate significant improvements in the well being of individuals and communities across the UK at very low cost to the taxpayer.   


Barnett, Steven W. (1996) Lives in the Balance: Age-27 Benefit-Cost Analysis of
the High/Scope Perry Preschool Program. Ypsilanti, Mich. High/Scope Press.

Masse, Leonard N & Barnett, Steven W. (2002) A Benefit Cost Analysis of the
Abecedarian Early Childhood Intervention. National Institute for Early
Education Research. New Jersey.

Reynolds, A. J., Temple, J. A., Robertson, D. L., & Mann, E.A. (2001) Age 21
Cost-Benefit Analysis of the Title I Chicago Child-Parent Centre Program, Executive Summary.

Sylva, K & Melhuish, E, Sammons, P, Siraj-Blatchford, I, Taggart, B (2003) The
Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) Project: Findings from Pre-School to end of Key Stage 1

Wade, B & Moore, M  (2000) ‘A Sure Start with Books’ Early Years 20, 2.