Private sector childcare in England

This project will provide evidence on the reach and impact of private sector childcare in England.

In the most recent DfE Childcare and Early Years Provider Survey almost two-thirds of nurseries classified themselves as private ‘for profit’. These companies also receive the bulk of childcare subsidies offered by the UK Government, through free places offered to parents of three, four and some two-year olds. For 2018 this is expected to total approximately £3.45 billion. Yet, information about these private nurseries is remarkably difficult for parents, the public and the Government to find and to date, there has been very little research on their operation.

This project will use publically available information about private nurseries to explore issues of finance, location, continuity, transparency, accountability and governance. It will be divided into four work streams. The first will involve a review of the reach of the private childcare industry using market research. The second strand will comprise a forensic accounting analysis of major nursery chains and their subsidiaries. In the third work stream ‘provision mapping’ will be carried out to determine the quality ratings of private providers in different local authorities with different levels of deprivation. In the final work stream case studies of private providers will be carried out using desk-based research and telephone interviews. A key aim of the project will be to consider how regulation used elsewhere in the education sector or in other countries might be used to support, shape and improve private provision in England.

Project details



Antonia Simon, University College London, Institute of Education

Charles Owen, University College London, Institute of Education

Grant amount and duration


February 2019 - March 2020