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Sound Foundations

A Review of the Research Evidence on Quality of Early Childhood Education and Care for Children under Three

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Report Summary

This report provides a literature review of the evidence on the quality of early childhood education and care for children under three. It considers the implications for policy and practice, particularly for the Government’s programme of free early years provision for disadvantaged two year-olds.

Key Findings

The review of the research evidence identified four key dimensions of good quality pedagogy for all children under three:

  • Stable relationships and interactions with sensitive and responsive adults
  • A focus on play-based activities and routines which allow children to take the lead in their own learning
  • Support for communication and language
  • Opportunities to move and be physically active.

In order to deliver high quality pedagogy, practitioners need to be skilled and knowledgeable and to work within environments which support them in their practice. The review of the research evidence suggests five ‘key conditions’ for quality:

  • Knowledgeable and capable practitioners, supported by strong leaders
  • A stable staff team with a low turnover
  • Effective staff deployment (e.g. favourable ratios, staff continuity)
  • Secure yet stimulating physical environments
  • Engaged and involved families.

Policy Recommendations

  • Delay the roll-out of the two year olds early education initiative to 40 per cent of two year olds (planned for September 2014) until the Government can ensure good quality provision for all.
  • Require that all staff working with funded two year olds be qualified to at least Level 3 (A-level standard) and have support from a graduate practitioner
  • Ensure that all practitioners (including childminders) can access qualifications and ongoing professional development which adequately prepares them to meet the needs of disadvantaged two year olds and their families
  • Create a workforce development fund, similar to the Graduate Leader Fund
  • Improve pay to reflect improved qualifications
  • Retain an overall ratio of 1:4 for group care settings and 1:3 for childminders
  • Work to ensure that there is a good social mix in early years settings, so that poorer two year olds mix with other children and improve their social and language skills in the process
  • Settings should ensure that their physical environments are appropriate for two year olds
  • Further strengthen the Ofsted inspection system to ensure that it provides a robust test of quality for settings wishing to offer funded places