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High quality nurseries have staff that are better trained and more qualified, as well as a low staff turnover and a higher staff to child ratio.
As part of the Study of Early Education and Development (SEED), researchers looked at the quality of 1,000 childcare settings for children aged from two to four years old.
The study found that staff training and development, lower staff turnover, accepting a narrower range of ages at the setting, a higher average level of staff qualification and having fewer children per member of staff were associated with higher quality provision across private, voluntary and nursery school settings.
It also found that the quality of early years provision has improved in England over the past 16 years, with children in deprived areas equally likely to receive good quality provision as children in less deprived areas.
Dr Svetlana Speight, research director at the National Centre for Social Research and the evaluation manager on the SEED study said: “We have seen from previous SEED reports that early years education has the potential to benefit children from all backgrounds.
“Today’s research highlights the structural factors which contribute to high quality care and, by extension, the areas to focus on for practitioners who want to improve the quality of their provision.
“This is particularly important as working families with three and four-year-olds take up the Government’s funded childcare offer under the new 30 free hours policy. Future research from SEED will examine links between the quality of settings and children’s outcomes.”
The report also revealed that although the average overall quality at all settings was good, maintained nursery schools as well as children’s centres tended to score a little higher than private and voluntary settings.
Settings caring for three-to four-year-olds also tended to score a little higher than those caring for two-year-olds.
Professor Edward Melhuish, the report author, University of Oxford, said: “The SEED study shows that the quality of early education provision in England is generally good and has improved following changes in policy. It also demonstrates the factors that can be changed to improve quality.”
Liz Bayram, chief executive at PACEY (Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years), responded to the report, warning that the hard work of early years practitioners is being put in jeopardy. She said: “This latest SEED study reinforces what Ofsted has demonstrated too, that quality in early years settings has increased over the past few years. This is something everyone working in early years should be immensely proud of, but no one in early years needs reminding that quality is now at risk.
“Increasing costs alongside poor funding levels for ‘free’ places for two-, three- and four- year-olds are beginning to take their toll. Our own research shows that providers’ investment in training and CPD is in decline as they struggle to maintain sustainable businesses. We know that high staff turnover continues to be a problem for many settings due to the low wages and poor career progression available to early years practitioners. None of this is news to anyone in early years.”
The Study of Early Education and Development (SEED) is a major longitudinal study which is following just under 6,000 two-year-olds from across England through to the end of KS1 (age seven).
The study is being carried out by NatCen Social Research, working with the University of Oxford, Action for Children and Frontier Economics, on behalf of the Department for Education (DfE).
The report can be found here