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Early years education and childcare: Lessons from evidence and future priorities

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This report brings together the findings from early years research funded by the Foundation between 2009 and 2015 and highlights the key insights that we believe are essential for any informed consideration of changes to early years provision. We also identify where there are connections and tensions in the evidence, as well as gaps and uncertainties. These observations informed our funding priorities in early years.

    Author
    Josh Hillman

    Overview


    The Nuffield Foundation has funded over 20 projects relating to early years education and childcare over the last five years, with a total contribution of around £2 million. Our work has been driven by a range of perspectives. Many projects take a longitudinal view of the potential benefits of early years education and childcare and the extent to which they have been realised, addressing factors associated with education and child development outcomes across the life-course, and the relationship between them. Others attempt to identify causal mechanisms that can help inform the design of early years interventions. We have funded projects that consider a broad range of institutional and more informal arrangements for delivering early years education and care and, importantly, how they fit together. Finally, our interests in the wider implications for public policy are reflected in our funding for
    projects which examine issues such as funding and quality regimes, and approaches to affordable childcare, often drawing on international comparators.


    Our aims in publishing this report are to:

    • Highlight key insights from the work we have funded in order to increase understanding of how outcomes in the early years and beyond can be improved through changes to policy and practice.
    • Set these new insights in the context of existing evidence. We do this by synthesising and critically appraising a large and complex body of evidence, highlighting connections and tensions, as well as gaps and uncertainties.
    • Set out the themes, priorities and questions for the Nuffield Foundation’s new funding programme, Early Years Education and Childcare. We hope this programme will make a major contribution to this wider evidence base in the coming years.

    The report has four chapters:

    • Chapter 1 defines early years education and childcare and sets out why it is important; the approach that the Foundation has taken to date; and what we believe is distinctive about our involvement.
    • Chapter 2 outlines the current state of early years policy and provision, including how and why the current model developed as it has.
    • Chapter 3 discusses what we have learned from work the Foundation has funded on early years education and childcare, puts that in the context of the wider evidence, and identifies some particularly pressing gaps in our understanding. We examine the key findings relating to the potential for early years education and childcare to fulfil its aims of improving child development outcomes, narrowing the attainment gap, and improving parental employment. We also consider some of the wider public policy implications of the work we have funded.
    • Chapter 4 sets out the key priorities for the Foundation’s work in early years education and childcare, in the form of a detailed rubric for our new research programme.
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    This report brings together the findings from early years research funded by the Foundation between 2009 and 2015 and highlights the key insights that we believe are essential for any informed consideration of changes to early years provision.

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