Identifying ‘quality’ in childcare

This project was a joint initiative from the University of Oxford’s Department of Education, A+ Education Ltd and Daycare Trust, to look at the different measures of quality applied in nurseries and preschools.

Researchers compared Ofsted inspections based on the Early Years Foundation Stage, with other quality assessments such as ECERS (Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale) and ITERS (Infant Toddler Environment Rating Scale), as well as quality assurance schemes. Focus groups were also carried out with parents, providers and local authorities to explore how these different measures are understood.  

Main findings
  • Ofsted grades are too broad to provide a detailed measure of quality in childcare settings, and are best used alongside other existing quality assessments.
  • Some settings judged as outstanding or good by Ofsted were rated as lower quality on the ECERS and ITERS rating scales. This could have implications for funding as Ofsted ratings are currently used by many local authorities to determine which nurseries and preschools receive government early years funding for free childcare provision.
  • Local authorities should use a range of indicators when allocating funding for existing free provision and in particular the extension of free childcare places to 40 per cent of two year olds by 2014.
  • Many parents consulted felt that Ofsted reports did not provide all the information they needed to make a decision about a childcare setting. 
Project details



Kate Groucutt, Daycare Trust

Sandra Mathers, University of Oxford

Grant amount and duration


January 2011 - January 2012



Mathers S., Singler R., Karemaker A. (2012) Improving Quality in the Early Years: A Comparison of Perspectives and Measures

Research Brief

Full Report