May 2018

Study of Quality of Early Years Provision in England

Report summary

Aims and Methods

This study comprised in-depth quality assessments with a sample of 1,000 early childhood education and care group settings attended by children from the SEED longitudinal study (402 room visits for settings for two-year-olds and 598 room visits for settings for three- to four-year-olds). Settings were selected to be representative of the distribution of group setting types in England. Quality visits took place between May 2014 and April 2016.

Quality of settings was measured through a questionnaire about setting structural characteristics completed by setting managers, as well as half-day observations where trained researchers recorded process quality on a range of scales. 

This report aims to explore the quality and characteristics of ECEC in different group settings in England, as well as the relationship between the characteristics of a setting and the quality of care and education it offers. 

Key findings:

  • Quality across all types of providers was generally at least adequate, and comparison with findings from the previous DfE funded longitudinal study suggests that quality of ECEC as well as staff qualification levels appear to have improved in England over the past 16 years.


  • On average, process quality scores tended to be slightly higher at nursery classes / schools and at children’s centres than at the private and voluntary settings.


  • Some regional variation in quality was observed, although quality of provision was similar across advantaged and disadvantaged areas. 


  • Key structural characteristics associated with observed process quality include a higher overall staff to child ratio, a higher level of staff qualification, having a staff training plan or budget, having lower staff turnover, a narrower age range, having a larger number of places, and in some cases having specialist SEN/D provision were associated with improvements in quality. Variation was seen according to child age and the type of setting studied.