Early years education and childcare - new report and funding programme

11 March 2015

The Nuffield Foundation has published a report on early years education and childcare and launched a new funding programme designed to address the evidence gaps in this key area of public policy.  

Early years education and childcare: lessons from evidence and future priorities reviews the relevant evidence and highlights the key insights that are essential for any informed consideration of changes to early years provision. It also identifies where there are connections and tensions in the evidence, as well as gaps and uncertainties. These observations have informed the development of a new funding programme, Early Years Education and Childcare.

‘Early years education and childcare’ is defined as the full range of provision, activities and experiences aimed at children prior to their entry into primary school, encompassing wider child development as well as childcare. The topic has grown in prominence over the past two decade because of its perceived potential to address a number of social policy objectives.

The report’s key messages include:
  • There has been a rapid expansion in the overall scale of provision, predominantly in the private, voluntary and independent sector. While the mixed model market is unlikely to change, questions about whether it provides consistently high quality childcare need to be addressed.
  • There has been a significant growth in take-up of provision overall, but availability varies by region and participation remains proportionally lower for disadvantaged groups, even though evidence suggests they have the most to gain.
  • There is strong evidence that the overall quality of provision is lower amongst private and voluntary sector providers than in the public sector, particularly in disadvantaged areas. But in comparison with other countries, there is evidence that England has been more successful in using early education and childcare to counteract disadvantage. A key contributory factor is that children in deprived, predominantly urban, areas tend to access publicly maintained provision, such as children’s centres and nurseries attached to primary schools, where quality is higher.
  • Childcare costs as a proportion of disposable family income have decreased, at least until 2012, but they remain amongst the highest in the OECD. There is also substantial variation by family type, working pattern and position on the income distribution.
  • Evidence on child outcomes is still emerging. High quality provision has positive effects on a range of child outcomes that are sustained well into the teenage years. But across provision as a whole, the effects are much more modest and fade out over the course of the primary phase of schooling.
  • The effects of free entitlement to early years education and childcare on maternal employment are modest.
  • There is some evidence about the factors that may lead to higher quality early years education and childcare. For example a particular focus on early oral language skills has been shown to be a crucial precursor for later language and literacy development and other aspects of ‘school-readiness’. 
  • There is a strong link between quality and the level of staff qualifications and there is scope to use funding mechanisms channelled through providers to create stronger incentives for higher quality care.
  • The evidence that might be used to support further expansion of public funding of early years education and childcare is far from conclusive. The immediate priorities should be to ensure that the most effective use is made of existing funding to improve incentives for higher quality care, whilst at the same time improving the evidence base that might support any future funding expansion.

Download Early years education and childcare: lessons from evidence and future priorities by Josh Hillman (Director of Education) and Teresa Williams (Director of Social Research and Policy) (PDF)

See also

Early years education and childcare: lessons from evidence and future priorities by Josh Hillman (Director of Education) and Teresa Williams (Director of Social Research and Policy)

Contact Fran Bright to request a printed copy. 

In the news

Child rearing is too important to be left to the market, The Guardian, 15.03.15

New funding to look at impact of early years, Nursery World, 16.03.15