In 2019, childminders, private and voluntary nurseries and pre-schools together provided over 1.3 million places in England. Research indicates that early childhood education and care (ECEC) can have a positive effect on children’s educational, cognitive, behavioural and social outcomes, in both the short- and long-term, if it is of high quality. ECEC can also play a positive role in raising attainment and closing the gap between outcomes for children from disadvantaged backgrounds and other children. However, recent UK data suggest the evidence of actual benefit is more mixed. Positive benefits are dependent on several factors, including the quality of care, such as the nature of the activities and relationships that children engage in within their settings, as well as group size, child-teacher ratios, staff retention, teachers’ training and professional development, as well as family and community engagement.

This POSTnote will look at research on ECEC and its impacts on children, including factors affecting outcomes, such as quality of care and parental engagement. It will also look at available evidence on what is needed to improve the quality of ECEC in England and what approaches for encouraging parental engagement in care are effective. It will consider what impact recent changes in government policies on funding for ECEC have had on access to high-quality care and on the attainment gap between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers. It will also look at available evidence on the impacts of closures in ECEC due to the COVID-19 pandemic on children’s developmental milestones, and whether it is likely to increase inequalities in outcomes for children.

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