United Kingdom - Early Childhood Education - Pedagogy

Early Childhood Education

United Kingdom


Early Childhood Education in the United Kingdom


The United Kingdom consists of four constituent countries: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The unrolling of domestic policy is determined within each country, and early years provision takes slightly different forms in each. This account focuses primarily on England rather than on the United Kingdom as a whole. Specific aspects of policy and provision are dealt with in more detail in the ten topic items elsewhere in the volume. Across all of the United Kingdom, however, there is an active debate about the regulatory role of government, and about the sustainability of the welfare state. In particular there are conflicting views about the impact of the for-profit sector on social cohesion. Inequality and social exclusion are regarded as undesirable, but there is not a consensus about how they might be addressed. These debates underwrite the delivery of various aspects of early years education and care.

The profile of early years education and care in the United Kingdom has changed considerably since 1997, when the Labour Government took office. From being a political backwater it has become a popular campaigning issue. The Government has sought ways to coordinate and increase the provision of early education and care, and to improve its quality. It has taken these steps for three reasons: to improve educational attainment; to help parents of young children into employment, especially single mothers in receipt of state benefits; and in order to combat child poverty. Provision has substantially increased, although the biggest percentage increase has been in the development of the for-profit (private) sector, which was previously very small.

Despite their new prominence, developments in services have been erratic. There have been many new initiatives superseding one another, and various changes in strategy. Costs have also risen substantially during this period, and the sustainability of provision is threatened by high staff turnover. There have been a number of major reviews of UK policy and provision of early education and care in the last few years (OECD Country Note, 1999; Inter-departmental Review, 2002; Every Child Matters, 2004; National Audit Office, 2004), which have documented these changes.


Supply and Access

There are 2.9 million children in England below the compulsory school age of 5. (Children usually start primary school in the year in which they are 5). Different types of provision are available and/or most commonly used for different age groups. Typically a child will have two or three (or more) experiences of care and education arrangements before starting school at 4 years. These are summarized in the table below:



Age of child

Type of provision

Hours provided

Cost and subsidy if available

0- to

For-profit day

Full time/flexible

Av cost £150-200 per wk.



Full time/flexible

Tax credit if parental income below £58,000.



Full time/flexible



Nanny (in house care)

Full time/flexible



Relative care

Sure Start or

Children’s Centre if available

Full time/flexible




As above

As above

As above



10-15hrs per wk

Small fee



12-15 hrs per wk



Nursery class Nursery school

12-15 hrs per wk



As above Reception

As above

As above


class in primary school

25 hours per wk



Children from ethnic minorities, especially those whose home language is not English, and children with disabilities, are less likely to access early years provision than other children (National Audit Office, 2004). Most 4-year-olds are in reception classes in primary school. This means that if their parents are working, they will have to make additional arrangements for their children for out-of-school hours, often at considerable inconvenience. Many for-profit and nonprofit organizations offer out-of-school supplementary care, either on school grounds or in separate facilities. Out-of-school provision has grown rapidly, but it is also the least stable form of provision, with a high turnover of providers, partly because expansion has been based on short-term start-up grants.


Registered child-care providers and places in England: December 2004







Full day care: (extended-day preschool groups and day nurseries)

Sessional care: (playgroups and private nursery schools)

Out-of-school day care: (including holiday schemes)


All types of provision













Source: Nursery & Childcare Market News, February 2005, Vol 3, Issue 8.


For profit and out of school provision has increased, but some kinds of provision have decreased. The biggest casualty has been nursery schools. Since the 1920s the United Kingdom has had an internationally admired tradition of freestanding nursery schools. In 1997, there were some 500 of these nursery schools. They offered free part-time or full-time (school year) places for children aged 3-4, and a curriculum, delivered by trained teachers, which valued free play and outside activities. (The regulations for child-care provision do not require outside playspace!) Under a separate initiative, now phased out, the best of these nursery schools were designated as “centres of early excellence,” and subsequently, under yet another short-lived initiative, as “neighbourhood nurseries.” But nursery schools, in their various guises, have proved too expensive to run, mainly because of their insistence on employing trained teachers led by head teachers. Nursery schools have either been closed, or have had to try to adapt, chameleon-like, into whichever government initiative currently offers funds. At the time of writing most of the remaining nursery schools which are able to do so are becoming children’s centers.

The other category of provider that has suffered has been childminding or family day care. Between 1999 and 2003, 188,000 new childminder places were created, but 193,000 closed. This is partly because of the very stringent inspection requirements under OfSTED and partly because of the lack of demand for childminding places compared with other forms of provision.


Organization and Coordination of Services

There have been a series of moves to streamline the administration of services, at national and local level. In 1997, provision was piecemeal. Education provision (free nursery schools and classes) was controlled by the then Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) and provided on a discretionary basis. Welfare provision was regulated by the Department of Health (family day care, family centers, and various other types of nonprofit and for-profit care) under the terms of the 1989 Children Act. This Act specified staff child-ratios (a minimum of one adult to three children under two at all times), set safety requirements, and for the first time introduced guidance on equality issues.

In 1997, the Labour Government tasked the DfEE to extend free part-time nursery education to all 4-year-olds and for 3-year-olds with special needs. At the same time the Department of Health launched its National Childcare Strategy to increase child-care provision for working parents. The Childcare Strategy proposed tax credits for working parents, to try to enable low-income working parents to purchase child care in the for-profit sector. The Treasury developed a separate and unrelated antipoverty initiative, Sure Start, for children aged 0-3. This was intended to be a community-based initiative, spanning health, education, and social services, offering a range of home-visiting and center-based services for young children and their mothers in disadvantaged communities.

Some attempts were made to provide a coherent framework for these separate initiatives. The Government set up Early Years Development and Care Partnerships (EYDCPs), semivoluntary, semiautonomous, stakeholder organizations, to coordinate initiatives at a local level and to oversee the expansion of nursery education and child care. They received short-term funds for their work (at one point more than twenty-six different streams of funding!). In particular they were required to generate more for-profit child care through start-up grants, training, and business advice (Penn and Randall, 2005).

However, it became evident that many of the new initiatives were confusing and time-wasting. An interdepartmental report in 2002 recommended a “rebranding” and streamlining. The EYDCPs are being phased out in favor of direct local authority control. The “Sure Start” initiative, a central plank of the Government’s antipoverty strategy, is also now being phased out or transformed because of slow implementation, poor take-up, and disappointing results. Funding will go to 3,500 local authority regulated multipurpose “children’s centres” (subsuming all other service initiatives including Sure Start local programs) for the most disadvantaged communities. These centers, set to become on stream by 2012, are intended to provide integrated care, education, health, and family support services for children 0-5. At a national level, responsibility for all types of education and childcare provision (although not Health) has now been relocated in the Department for Education and Skills (DfES). A Minister for Children was appointed in 2004, and a Children’s Commissioner in 2005.


Curriculum and Teacher Preparation

A common curriculum or “Foundation Stage” was introduced for all center- based care, including for-profit care. All regulatory and inspection activities were handed over to the national Education Inspectorate (OfSTED) although the actual inspection regimes for educational and child-care provision remain distinct (Penn, 2002). Training was also streamlined, and a minimum vocational qualification has been set for a proportion of staff in all center-based care.



In England, the Government spent £3.6 billion in 2002-2003, and has spent in total some £14 billion on early years services since 1998, mainly on early education rather than on childcare (National Audit Office, 2004).

Despite these well-meaning initiatives, and the considerable amount of money spent, early education and care in the United Kingdom is still piecemeal. It has not reached the levels of provision of most European countries, despite pressure from within the EU (European Childcare Network 1997) and from the OECD (2001). The children’s center program is a belated attempt to redress the situation, but many problems remain. A key issue is whether the demand for universal, equitable services can ever be addressed within a market led system.

Further Readings: Department for Education and Skills (2004). Every child matters: Change for children. www.everychildmatters.gov.uk; European Commission Childcare Network (1995). Quality targets in services for young children. Brussels: European Commission Equal Opportunities Unit; Inter-departmental review of childcare: Delivering for children and families (November 2002). London: Cabinet Office Strategy Unit; National Audit Office (2004). Early years: Progress in developing high quality childcare and early education accessible to all. London: HMSO; OECD (1999). UK Country Note. Paris: The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; OECD (2001). Starting Strong: Thematic review of early education and care. Paris: The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; Penn, H. (2002). Maintains a good pace to lessons: OfSTED inspections of maintained nursery schools. British Educational Research Journal 28(6), 879-888; Penn, H., and V. Randall (2005): Childcare policy and partnerships under labour. Journal of Social Policy 34(1), 79-97.

Helen Penn


Sociology of Childhood and Children’s Rights

Four interwoven strands in policy and thinking together make UK ideas about children and childhood distinctive. First, the United Kingdom is a wealthy country, but it has very high rates of poverty; when the Conservative party left power in 1997, their social policies ensured that one-third of children lived in poverty, and lone mothers and children were especially affected. The current New Labour government aims to reduce the proportion of children in poverty, and a principal method is to encourage mothers into paid work. Though early childhood services have expanded to meet this policy, in both quality and quantity they are inadequate.

Second, during the 1980s and 1990s, in explanation of high rates of poverty, politicians and right-wing media encouraged a culture of victim blaming, in which parents were blamed for children’s failings. Children were described both as vulnerable to abuse by adults and as threats to the social order. These ideas persist today.

Third, as compared to other northern European countries, the United Kingdom has traditionally heavily emphasized parental responsibility for children’s welfare and socialization, with the state playing a relatively minor role. Fourth, a linked point, there is general acceptance of the view that childhood is a presocial period; children are socialization projects for adults, especially for parents and, later on, early years preschool and school staff. Children are not generally recognized as citizens. Instead they are seen through “welfarist” spectacles as incomplete beings with a complex array of needs, whose welfare depends crucially on parental capacity and willingness to care.


The Rights of Children

Given this social context, the last fifteen years have seen increasing attempts to redress the balance, to do justice to children (and their parents), to rethink childhood: to think of children as people, as citizens who participate in social life. The 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was ratified by the UK government in 1991, but not incorporated into UK law. Essentially the CRC lays out children’s rights as citizens, under three main headings: rights to protection (since they are a minority social group in the power of adults); rights to provision (since as weaker than adults they cannot provide for themselves); and rights to participate in decision making on matters that affect them.

The UK government has found protection and provision rights readily acceptable, since they fit with a welfarist model of services and with children as a complex of needs. But within a strongly patriarchal society, governments and other policymakers have found participation rights more difficult to accept. However, the importance of listening to children and taking account of their knowledge and experience has been demonstrated through many research studies, including work with some of the youngest children, in early years settings. Government policy documents now acknowledge that children have the right to be consulted on a wide range of topics that affect their lives. But thoroughgoing reforms to procedures for planning and implementation are still needed to ensure children’s voices are seriously attended to.


Childhood as Socially Constructed

In addition to moves toward listening to children, there has been increased interest in the idea that childhood is socially constructed. Sociologists, historians, and anthropologists have provided masses of evidence that adults define childhood, and the children who inhabit childhood do so differently in differing times and places. This idea leads on to critiques of the ways in which childhood is commonly presented. Thus UK commentators note that the media and also policy documents commonly present deficit models of children—emphasizing what they lack rather than their strengths. Children are routinely described as incompetent, vulnerable, ignorant, and needy; whilst an alternative set of words might be competent, strong and resilient, knowledgeable and capable. An important part of the social constructionist approach is that it draws attention to ways in which childhood relates to adulthood. Thus if adults define children as incompetent (and so on), then adults will feel bound to protect and provide for children in order to meet and remedy these defects. If children are vulnerable, then mothers must be extra vigilant. Early childhood services in the United Kingdom have long been affected by the concept of children’s needs, and also by the idea that an important part of the role of staff is to compensate for parental failures in socializing their children.

However, there is general agreement that ideas about childhood and indeed services for children are changing. The CRC has been important, with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as Save the Children taking up a principled stance for children’s rights. Also important are changes in early childhood courses and the huge increase in university childhood courses, drawing on anthropology and sociology. Although some of these courses still also draw on developmental psychology, they have built on and developed the work about listening to children, and further explored the social construction of childhood. The children’s rights movement has brought strength to consideration of children’s interests. The Open University BA in Childhood is already reaching out to thousands of students. These new strands in thinking are leading to debate on questions about the institutionalization of young children in nurseries (in the interests of decreasing family poverty) and about the character and quality of services for young children, and the appropriate training of those who work alongside them.


Deficit Models and Alternatives

However, the distinctive character of UK ideas about children makes it hard to obtain clear recognition of children as citizens with rights. Deficit models still prevail, rather than an understanding that children are not presocial recipients of adult socialization efforts. Sociologists concerned with childhood are attempting to move to a more structural understanding of childhood and to view children as constituting a social group that contributes through their labor to the maintenance and advancement of society. Just as in the past children used to work alongside adults in households, fields, and factories, so now their principal contributions are at school and at home. It is argued that children should be regarded not as objects of the education system, but as workers, who use their brains, bodies, and feelings to acquire knowledge and to help other children to do so. Staff in education settings should therefore think of their work as a partnership with children. This is probably easier for staff working with the youngest children, than for those gripped by the stringencies of the National Curriculum (see Curriculum entry, below)

At home, as every mother knows, children are not just the recipients of protection and provision; they are active participants in maintaining the household as a going concern. They engage in household work from their earliest months, they build and develop relationships; they comfort tired mothers and help their younger and elder siblings. In other words, they engage in people-work. One of the barriers to recognition of children’s economic and social contributions is the long tradition whereby education staff define themselves as in authority over children; another is that children’s people-work takes place mostly in private. It is only visible to another minority social group—women, and not to those who hold the power to change ideas about childhood.

Nevertheless, there are indications that policymakers on schooling are beginning to recognize that only if children actively participate in and engage with learning will they learn. The notion that children should enjoy learning is creeping back into policy statements. Some of this thinking may be a reaction to the straitjacket of top-down curricula and testing imposed from the 1990s onward. The new local authority controlled “children’s centers” appear to emphasize a greater prominence for children’s participation as key to good services. Perhaps the influence of such ideas will move upward through the school system?

Further Readings: Clark, A., and P. Moss (2001). Listening to young children: The mosaic approach. London: National Children’s Bureau; Mayall, B. (2002). Towards a sociology for childhood: Thinking from children’s lives. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press; Qvortrup, J. (1994). Childhood matters: An introduction. In J. Qvortrup, M. Bardy, G. Sgritta, and H. Wintersberge, eds., Childhood matters: Social theory, practice and politics. Aldershot, UK: Avebury Press; Woodhead, M., and J. Maybin, eds. (2003). Understanding childhood. Chichester, UK: John Wiley and Sons.

Berry Mayall

Culture, Race, and Ethnicity


The United Kingdom has been a country of immigration and refuge for many years. However, in the 1960s and 1970s, the number of immigrants grew substantially, particularly from the countries of the New Commonwealth. The range of countries of origin and languages spoken broadened considerably in the 1990s due to refugees arriving from new conflict zones, economic migration, and the enlargement of the European Union. Current statistics show that currently 10 percent of all school pupils in England originate from black and ethnic minority communities. However this population is very unevenly distributed throughout the country, with the greatest concentrations in the major industrial cities and London in particular. It is currently estimated that 300 languages are spoken in the greater London area by school children.



Providing definitions of terms such as “multiculturalism,” “race,” “ethnicity,” or “identity” in the UK context is a challenge. There is little consensus and debate is lively. The Runnymede Trust, in a report on the future of multiethnic Britain, defined a broad concept of multiculturalism based on social justice for individuals. It also recognized that, as individual citizens belong to particular religious, ethnic, cultural, and regional communities, account has to be taken of these differences and affiliations if genuine equal treatment of citizens is to be achieved.

However, multiculturalism, by encouraging the concept of multiple and developing identities, has also been considered to be a divisive force in society. This concern rose to the surface in the aftermath of community unrest in the north of England in 2001 and the terrorist bombings in London in 2005 and led to calls for “integration” to replace multiculturalism and for the development of a concept of Britishness.


Developments in Policy

In the 1960s, as families with young children who did not speak English arrived to join working fathers in the major industrial cities, they posed a problem for an education system which was totally unprepared to receive them. Educational policies since that time have shifted between advocating integration, multiculturalism, equal opportunity and antiracist approaches, or indeed ignoring the issues altogether.

In 1966, the Home Office allocated funds to local authorities in areas where substantial numbers of new immigrants had settled to support any additional expenditure they may incur, in particular the cost of teaching English. The goal was assimilation. Children were initially taught in reception centres or in withdrawal units attached to mainstream schools. The expectation was that new immigrants would learn English and assimilate culturally into the mainstream society. Little interest was expressed in the children’s cultural experiences and deficit models of bilingualism were common and teacher expectations low.

The concept of multicultural education developed in recognition that the school population in major urban areas had changed and that diversity of culture and language was an asset that needed to be recognized and valued to ensure equal educational opportunity. The Swann report, a major investigation into the education of children from minority ethnic communities, advocated a multicultural education for all children. It also reported on the effects of racism on black pupils and recommended that all pupils be taught in mainstream classrooms and have full access to the whole curriculum. The report was much debated but generally sidelined as the Education Reform Act of 1988 initiated government control of the school curriculum: the National Curriculum was statutory, assimilationist in its philosophy and eurocentric in its content. It was also overloaded, leaving little opportunity for teachers to work beyond it.

The new Labour Government of 1997 expressed a commitment to the development of early years education and childcare and to improving equality of opportunity for all children. The Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage (QCA, 2000) acknowledged the different ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and religious backgrounds of children. Practitioners were expected to provide appropriate resources and encourage use of home languages.

Following the McPherson report of 1999 into the racist murder of a black teenager, which mobilized public opinion on the issue of institutional racism, the Race Relations Amendment Act (2000) gave institutions a duty to eliminate discrimination through auditing their practices and outcomes in all areas of their work. Educational institutions were required by law to have a Race Equality Policy and an action plan for implementation.


The Experience of Young Children in the Classroom

Multicultural education at its best in early years settings incorporates elements from the cultures of all pupils into the every day practice of the school. Teachers understand the benefits of bilingualism and seek staff who speak the children’s home languages. They build partnerships with parents and communities and draw on their cultural expertise and community knowledge to incorporate language, cultural and religious events, and creative arts into the curriculum. The whole environment of the school, the displays, the books, the resources (utensils, dressing up clothes, dolls, food) reflect the home experiences of the children. Early years settings rise to the challenge of reflecting the very many different cultures that can be represented in one place. While acknowledging the importance of reflecting the experience of children in a particular setting, many educators feel that all children, especially in areas of low diversity, should experience different cultures on their way to becoming global citizens.

However, multicultural education has made little impact on the curriculum of schools. It does not generally address issues of economic and political power and their impact on the lives of children from black and ethnic minority communities. Neither has it had any significant impact on children’s achievement in school.

The concept of antiracist education developed in response to the growing evidence of discrimination and the devastating effect this has on the lives and educational opportunities of children.

A curriculum for racial equality focuses on issues of social justice and combating racism. In the early years it recognizes that children learn their attitudes to race and social hierarchies from the environment and the adults around them at a very early age. Young children’s experiences of racism (through name calling, ridicule, social rejection, etc.) seriously damage their self-esteem, their sense of personal identity and their educational achievement. An effective setting is a safe place for young children in which they learn to value differences, respect their peers, learn to be confident about themselves, and collaborate with others. It is a setting in which all staff, in partnership with families and communities, address negative behavior and support children who have suffered from racism.

Organizations such as the Early Years Trainers Anti-Racist Network have produced detailed guidance on these issues (EYTARN, 1998), as has the Commission for Racial Equality in relation to auditing equal opportunities in schools (CRE, 2000).


Issues in Practice

While good practice exists in relation to educating young children to value cultural differences, to respect others, and to develop a strong and confident sense of personal identity, this practice is not supported by a concept of entitlement and is a long way from being universal. The lack of consensus in relation to issues of culture, race, and ethnicity means that policy can change its focus as attitudes swing, governments change, politicians respond to shifts in public opinion, sometimes fuelled by sensational and negative press campaigns.

Government legislation since 2000 and the restructuring of services for young children have focused on quantifiable aspects of equal opportunities. Schools and early years settings are required to have policies and action plans, to analyze test results by ethnicity, to seek solutions to the underachievement of identified groups, some of which has been persistent and well documented for over thirty years.

Policies can be written and statistics collected. The skilled and sensitive practice required to translate equal opportunities into meaningful educational experiences for young children requires equally sensitive and skilled teacher education. New teachers feel they have been very poorly prepared to work with children from a range of cultural backgrounds (NQT survey) and there is a shortage of courses for experienced teachers in these issues.

In the absence of a consensus, how issues of social justice, racism, cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversity are addressed in practice in the classroom is often down to enthusiastic individuals who make full use of the legislative and policy framework, but go far beyond it in a commitment to developing the best practice for the young children in their care and organizing to influence policy. The extent to which educational experience is tailored to the cultural traditions of children and their families still varies greatly at the time of writing.

Further Readings: Baker, P., and J. Eversley (2000). Multilingual capital: The languages of London’s schoolchildren. London: Battle bridge Publications; Commission for Racial Equality (2000). Learning for all: Standards for racial equality in schools. London: CRE; DES (Department for Education and Skills) (1985). Education for All, Report of the Committee of Enquiry into the Education of Children from Ethnic Minority Groups (the Swann report). London: HMSO; Early Years Trainers Anti-Racist Network (1998). Planning for excellence. London: EYTARN; Modood, T. (2005). Remaking multiculturalism after 7/7. Open democracy. Available online at http://www.opendemocracy.net/debates/article.jsp?id=2&debateId=124&articleId=2879#; Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (2000). Curriculum guidance for the foundation stage. London: QCA; Race Relations (Amendment Act) (2000). Available online at http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2000/20000034.htm; Rynnymede Trust (2000). The future of multi-ethnic Britain. The Parekh Report. London: Profile Books; Siraj-Blatchford, I. (1994). The early years, laying the foundations for racial equality. Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham Books.

Raymonde Sneddon



In the middle of the 90s, Britain ranked third from the bottom in an international comparison of relative child poverty rates in rich countries (UNICEF, 2000). Up to 1997 it also had the worst EU rates. Indeed, during the twentieth century’s last decade, child poverty had become widespread, as demonstrated by the following excerpt from a major survey of children’s access to necessities (Gordon, Adelman, Ashworth et al., 2000):

A third of British children go without at least one of the things they need, like three meals a day, toys, out of school activities or adequate clothing. Eighteen percent of children go without two or more items defined as necessities by the majority of the population.

After the 1995 Copenhagen World Summit for Social Development, Britain and 116 other countries agreed to adopt a two-tier approach to the measure of “absolute” and “overall,” or “relative,” poverty. They agreed to try to eradicate the former and reduce the latter. Relative poverty relates (a) to lack of access to basics and (b) to participation in decision making and in civil, social, and cultural life. The term “social exclusion” is generally used to refer to the second component of this poverty definition.

In accordance with European practice, the relative poverty line was set at 60 percent of median income level, that is, after deduction of taxes and benefits and adjusted for household size. The Poverty and Social Exclusion Survey (Gordon, Adelman, Ashworth et al., 2000) explored necessities deprivation and the distribution of poverty across households and argued for a long-term measure of poverty focusing on living standards, to provide a more comprehensive picture of the effects of poverty.

Child poverty was found disproportionately in minority ethnic families, in large and lone parent families, in families with younger children, in families in the social rented housing sector, and where families with children included a disabled member. General poverty in the United Kingdom, compared to that in other OECD countries, was also characterized by persistent, rather than transient poverty rates, high rates of workless households with children, of low-pay households and of low-employment levels and rates of pay among lone parent households, all factors with a direct bearing on children’s life chances. Incontrovertible evidence confirms poverty’s effect on children’s present quality of life and later development.

When the Labour Government took office in 1997, these emerging general and child poverty data, coupled with Britain’s ranking in terms of relative poverty among industrialized nations, caused official concern. While recognizing the complex and multidimensional nature of child poverty within robust economies, the UK government decided that tackling child poverty should be a key policy goal. In 1999, Prime Minister Tony Blair announced the government’s intention to eradicate child poverty within a generation, that is, by 2020, and to halve it by 2010.

This announcement placed children center stage in the government’s antipoverty strategy. Policies included the introduction of a minimum wage, increased child benefit packages and tax credit reforms, including the introduction of a child tax credit. The annual Opportunity for All surveys were established as a mechanism for monitoring general and child poverty levels. A Minister for Children was created in 2003, and Children’s Commissioners were appointed in Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and England in 2001, 2003, 2004, and 2005 respectively.

The main focus of the new antipoverty measures was firmly on the under fives and their families. The “Welfare to Work” principle constituted the foundation for the Government’s antipoverty strategy and was translated into the 1998 National Childcare Strategy, reformatted in 2004 as the Ten Year Strategy for Childcare. Its aim was to encourage a mixed market of child-care provision to support maternal employment, in particular the return to work of 70 percent of lone mothers by 2010.

The aim of improving long-term educational attainment, and hence a more highly skilled workforce, underpinned the provision of universal part-time free early years education for all 3- and 4-year-olds, a target achieved by 2004.

In addition, the government chose to address child poverty with targeted area- based initiatives such as Education and Health Action Zones, New Deal for Communities and an expensive, multiagency family support program Sure Start for under threes and their families. Yet the Government’s own statistics confirmed that targeted policies would miss out many children, by showing that half of poor children lived outside geographically disadvantaged areas.

As far as poverty in early childhood was concerned, it soon became obvious that there were significant interface problems between the supply side subsidy provided to providers of early education, and the demand side subsidies provided to parents in the form of child-care tax credits, which was meant to encourage the operation of the child-care market. There simply was not enough money in the system to ensure day care growth, sustainability, and accessibility to poor children.

This “market failure” was behind the government’s 2004 changes to the childcare strategy, including an increase in child-care tax credits limits and women’s entitlement to a full-year paid maternity leave by the end of the present parliament. No robust measures were announced to encourage universal child-care provision for 1- and 2-year-olds. The reformatted child-care strategy was to continue its heavy reliance on market mechanisms for its success.

The Sure Start programs, originally the lynchpin of the antipoverty strategy, were integrated with a range of other center-based family support initiatives into a nationwide program of children’s centers. By 2010 there should be 3,500 of these “in every community,” offering access to integrated early years activities, childcare and family services, including some health services. As far as measuring the impact on child poverty of the government’s early years strategies is concerned, the Sure Start initiative is subject to an extensive national evaluation. However, this has so far yielded few significant findings.

The government does appear to have achieved its main target for 2004, namely lifting some 700,000 children out of poverty since the late 1990s. But while gains have been made, some key indicators pertinent to child poverty have worsened significantly since the late 90s, including a doubling of the number of households with children in temporary accommodation. Gender, ethnicity, and disability continue to characterize child poverty in Britain and gains made in terms of children’s healthy development and later life chances remain at risk.

The evidence justifies the conclusion that even under conditions of full employment, child poverty will not simply disappear, as low pay remains a significant problem. Investing in early education and care cannot on its own address child poverty significantly. Two parents in paid employment may be sufficient to keep a household with a couple of children above the poverty threshold, but lower levels of parental employment provide no guarantees in this respect. In an era that has witnessed the disappearance of the family wage, an over-reliance on paid work as a route out of poverty for households with children, and a rigid adherence to the “welfare to work” principle, may eventually prove counterproductive in achieving the Labour Government’s aim of eradicating child poverty within a generation.

Further Readings: Adelman, L., S. Middleton, and K. Ashworth (2003). Britain’s poorest children: Severe and persistent poverty and social exclusion. London: Centre for Research in Social Policy for Save the Children UK; Bradshaw, J., ed. (2001). Poverty: The outcomes for children. ESRC Occasional Paper 26. London: Family Policy Studies Centre; Department of Social Security (1999). Opportunity for all: 1st annual report. London: The Stationary Office; Department for Work and Pensions (2003). Measuring child poverty. London: The Stationary Office; Gordon, D., L. Adelman, K. Ashworth, J. Bradshaw, R. Levitas, S. Middleton, C. Pantazis, D. Patsios, S. Payne, P. Townsend, and J. Williams (2000). Poverty and social exclusion in Britain. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation; Hills, J. (2004). Poverty challenges and dilemmas for the next 20 years. In H. Glennerster, J. Hills, D. Piachaud, and J. Webb, eds., One hundred years of poverty and policy. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation; H.M. Treasury (2004). Child poverty review. London: The Stationary Office; Lloyd, E. (in press). Children, poverty and social exclusion. In D. Gordon, C. Pantazis, and R. Levitas, eds., Poverty and social exclusion: The millennium survey. Bristol: Policy Press; Melhuish, E. (2004). A literature review of the impact of early years provision on young children, with emphasis given to children from disadvantaged backgrounds. In NAO, Early Years: Progress in developing high quality childcare and early education accessible to all. London: National Audit Office. Available online atwww.nao.org.uk/publications; National Audit Office (2004). Early Years: Progress in developing high quality childcare and early education accessible to all. London: National Audit Office. Available online at www.nao.org.uk/publications; Palmer, G., and P. Kenway (2004). Monitoring poverty and social exclusion 2004. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Available online at www.npi.org.uk/reports; Ridge, T. (2002). Childhood and social exclusion: From a child’s perspective. Bristol: Policy Press; UNICEF (2000). A league table of child poverty in rich nations. Innocenti Report Card 1. Florence: Innocenti Research Centre.

Eva Lloyd


The Concept of Quality in the United Kingdom

“Quality” is a central concern for policy and research in early childhood education and care in the United Kingdom. It is seen by government to be a necessary condition to reduce the possibility of bad effects of attending child care and to ensure the best outcomes. In its recent Ten Year Strategy for Child Care document, the UK government speaks of its vision of a child care system where “child care services are among the best in the world; and all families are able to afford high quality child care services.” Ensuring that “pre-school child care is of high quality will improve outcomes for children, particularly the youngest children, as well as creating wider benefits for families and society.” It bases this statement on research interpreted as showing that “quality pre-school experiences can have clear positive effects on children’s social, emotional, and cognitive development ... [and that] early exposure to quality pre-school is more effective ... the higher the quality of the education provided.”

Recent research in the United Kingdom has been dominated by two large- scale government-funded longitudinal studies, one focused on the Labour Government’s flagship Sure Start program, which targets young children and families in poor areas; the other examining the consequences of attendance at different forms of provision—The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE). Much quoted by government, EPPE concludes that “high quality provision” has a positive effect on children’s intellectual and social/behavioral development: the better the quality, the better for the children’s development. Quality has been assessed using a standardized rating scale based on the Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale, developed by Clifford and Harms in the United States.

The EPPE researchers further conclude that quality is associated with various staffing features, including staff with higher qualifications, leadership skills, and longer years of service: “having qualified trained teachers working with children ... had the greatest impact on quality, and was linked specifically with better outcomes in pre-reading and social development” (Sylva, Melhuish, Sammons et al., 2003, p. 2). In other words, structure (in particular staffing) and process (the environment of the service) are presented as closely connected. At the same time, in policy statements, government distinguishes access from quality, but presents them both as necessary and complementary goals.

However, given current policies it is difficult for government to meet these goals. A great part of early childhood services, those referred to as “child care,” are delivered by private providers (mostly businesses) in a private market, and parents are expected to pay for these services as consumers needing to purchase “child care.” Public funding is focused on parents unable to access the market because of low income, through targeted policies, in particular tax credits. Most of the costs of these child care services are, therefore, carried by parents, and this funding base has proved incompatible with developing a well-qualified workforce; levels of qualification are low, as are pay and related conditions.

Even within its own terms, government policy faces a contradiction: how to achieve “quality” in a market system. It faces a further problem. Parents as consumers may be unable to afford the conditions for good quality but they are also thought to lack the necessary knowledge to make informed choices: in the words of a government Treasury report, “although the quality of child care experience is vital to child outcomes, there is evidence to suggest that parents do not accurately observe the quality of the child care they use.”

This discussion on quality in the United Kingdom today forms part of a wider discourse on quality, with its origins in the United States in the 1980s. The United States is seen as a reference point by UK policymakers and researchers, who draw heavily on the disciplinary perspectives, methods, and results of American research. The observation by Bloch (1992) about the United States could apply equally to the United Kingdom, at least when it comes to government-funded research: “early childhood educators who fail to frame their research or research methods in the largely positivist traditions and theories of child development or developmental psychology find themselves marginalized.”

As part of the wider Anglo-American discourse about early childhood, the discussion and practice of quality in the United Kingdom is inscribed with the values and assumptions of liberalism and modernity. Quality is understood in terms of identifying and assuring certain conditions that will promote particular results or outcomes, usually defined in developmental terms. As such, it is a normative concept. It assumes the possibility of identifying stable, objective, decontextualized, and therefore generalizable criteria or norms, against which a service can be assessed: in a nutshell, quality is about conformity to norms. Moreover, the outcomes which quality is intended to promote are also normative, in the form, for example, of developmental or educational standards, and being normative they are also predetermined; quality, therefore, promotes and values an environment that ensures predictability.

This approach has been subject to some criticism, which has extended to problematising the concept of quality, and its attendant values and assumptions, and seeking an alternative approach to evaluation. During the 1990s, among some UK and other European researchers there was a growing awareness of the importance of, and impossibility of avoiding, context, complexity, plurality, and subjectivity. Attention was paid to the process of defining quality and to how that process might be made more inclusionary and participatory, involving a wide range of stakeholders. This introduced the possibility of multiple perspectives or understandings of what quality is, and that quality might be subjective, value- based, relative and dynamic, never reaching a final and objective statement. In its ground-breaking proposals for “quality targets in services for young children,” the European Commission Child Care Network (1995), an expert group drawn from the then 12 member states of the European Union, summed up the search for a new approach to quality when it concluded that “quality is a relative concept based on values and beliefs, and defining quality should be a dynamic, continuous and democratic process.” Further, it argued that “defining quality is a process ... [which] should be participatory and democratic, involving different groups including children, parents and families and professionals working in services ... [T]he needs, perspectives and values of these groups may sometimes differ.” By adopting this approach, the Child Care Network implied that quality was as much a political as a technical issue, and a matter for citizens as much as experts.

It would be misleading to suggest that this approach to quality, or indeed other work which has questioned the very concept of quality and suggested that there are other concepts for evaluating early childhood services, has gained widespread currency in the United Kingdom. These are marginalized perspectives. The discussion—in government, services and research—remains dominated by a model of quality as conformity to expert-defined and neutral norms, a statement of fact rather than a judgment of value, and a way of coping with the complexities and uncertainties of the modern world. This model is accompanied by a prescriptive, centralized, and normative system of regulation of early childhood services, including national service standards, a detailed curriculum framework, early learning goals and a national system of inspection by a powerful agency (OfSTED), which originally covered schools and has now had its responsibility extended to cover early childhood services and, indeed, all other services for children. The chapter on “building quality” in the latest government policy statement focuses on two broad areas: improvements to the workforce and “a reformed regulatory framework and inspection system.”

In this respect, early childhood services in the United Kingdom can be summed as a “quasi-market and an evaluative state,” with a strong public rhetoric of choice and diversity combined with the actuality of a centrally regulated system.

Further Readings: Bloch, M. (1992). Critical perspectives on the historical relationship between child development and early childhood education research. In S. Kessler and B. Swedener, eds., Reconceptualizing the early childhood curriculum. New York: Teachers College Press; Dahlberg, G., P. Moss, and A. Pence (1999). Beyond quality in early childhood education and care: Postmodern perspectives. London: Falmer Books; European Commission Child care Network (1995). Quality targets in services for young children. Brussels: European Commission Equal Opportunities Unit; HM Treasury (2005). Choice for parents, the best start for children: A ten year strategy for child care. London. The Stationery Office. Available online at www.hm-treasury.gov.uk; Sylva, K., E. Melhuish, P. Sammons, I. Siraj-Blatchford, B. Taggart, and K. Eliot (2003). The effective provision of pre-school education (EPPE) project: Findings from the pre-school period. Summary of findings. London: Institute of Education.

Peter Moss


The Early Years Curriculum-United Kingdom


The United Kingdom is made up of four distinct countries, each of which has jurisdiction over education: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Though broadly similar, there are also some significant differences. In Wales, for example, the Early Years curriculum has taken shape in the form of the Desirable Outcomes for Children’s Learning, which serves as a national guide for the Early Years. The Welsh educational model is also distinctive in its Welsh language policy, where Welsh is taught as part of the curriculum.

In England, most children enter primary school in the year in which they become 5 years old, either in nursery classes attached to primary school, or in the reception class. Children are taught the National Curriculum, which is based on a combination of subject divisions, learning stages, and attainment levels. Children’s ability to meet the levels of attainment specified in the curriculum is monitored by national testing procedures in the form of Standard Attainment Tests (SATs). The SATs focused on attainments in reading, writing, and mathematics and the results of SATs are aggregated for all schools and presented in the form of league tables. Teachers in primary schools therefore face the pressure of teaching to these tests and keeping to a subject-based, direct teaching approach. In 1999, the National Literacy Strategy was introduced and in 2000, the Numeracy Strategy. These prescribed the content and duration (one hour) of special literacy and numeracy sessions for all pupils in state primary schools. They further reinforce the emphasis on a subject-based and target-oriented curriculum, despite the more holistic approaches to children under 5 years described below.


The English Curriculum: Birth to Three

As a precursor to the curriculum for 3- to 5-year-olds, the Government also introduced a curriculum model for under threes. This curriculum is intended as guidance for all those working with young children, in whatever type of provision is locally available.

The Birth to 3 Matters Framework (2003) consists of four aspects: a strong child, a skillful communicator, a competent learner, and a healthy child. The main aim of the Framework is to provide support and guidance for all those involved in the care and education of babies and children from birth to three years. The Framework “recognizes that all children from birth have a need to develop, learning through interaction with people and exploration of the world around them” and acknowledges the “individuality, efforts and achievements” of children. Indeed, the Framework emphasizes the child as an individual and makes a concerted effort to steer clear of subject divisions and curriculum headings. The Framework focuses on the skills and competences of the child.

The table below illustrates the four aspects and components of the Framework:








A strong child

A skillful communicator

A competent learner

A healthy child

Me, myself and I

Being together

Making connections

Emotional well-being

Being acknowledged and affirmed

Finding a voice

Being imaginative

Growing and developing

Developing self-assurance

Listening and responding

Being creative

Keeping safe

A sense of belonging

Making meaning


Health choices


The English Curriculum: Foundation Stage

As part of a more general reorganization of early education and care, the government has made provision for all 3- and 4-year-old children to receive state-funded (but not necessarily state provided) part-time early education with a good quality curriculum.


The foundation stage. In September 2000, the Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage for children aged 3-5 was launched by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) in England. The Guidance generally advocates the need for a holistic curriculum that takes into consideration the needs of the individual child and encourages children to be active learners. In contradistinction to the National Curriculum, the Guidance proposes Early Learning Goals (ELGs), as follows:

• Personal, social, and emotional development

• Communication, language, and literacy

• Mathematical development

• Knowledge and understanding of the world

• Physical development

• Creative development

The metaphor of “stepping stones” is used for each learning goal to describe a range of learning experiences, which all children need in order to achieve the ELGs. So for instance, within the area of “Personal, social and emotional development,” the stepping stones include “show curiosity,” “have a strong exploratory impulse,” and “have a positive approach to new experiences.” These “stepping stones” chart the progress of the children toward the ELGs and help to identify the kinds of knowledge and skills that children should have by the end of the Foundation Stage.


The six principles. Accompanying the ELGs is also a set of six principles that underpin the Guidance. These principles stress the importance of meeting the needs of children, the role of parents as partners, and the importance of play as a tool for learning. The six principles encompass the following:

• Putting the principles into practice

• Meeting the diverse needs of children

• Children with special educational needs and disabilities

• Children with English as an additional language

• Learning and teaching

• Play

The main purpose of the principles is to guide practitioners to assess and to plan for the children in their settings, and to ensure that all children are given an equal opportunity to develop and progress during the foundation stage. In the guidance notes for practitioners, the principles are also promoted through examples from real life settings and recommendations for practitioners.


Teacher observation and assessment. In an attempt to chart the progress of the children through the Foundation Stage, the curriculum is also accompanied by a handbook of assessment tools for practitioners, entitled the Foundation Stage Profile. The aim of the Profile, as the introduction states, is to provide a form of evidence-based report for parents of their child’s development, and “for information to be passed on to the child’s next teacher.” The handbook is very much built on the use of observations as a tool for assessing and monitoring children’s learning and development. It involves the practitioner carrying out regular observations on each child, and accumulating a record of the child’s progress within the six areas of learning. In addition, embedded within the Profile are assessment scales, where the six areas of learning are matched against a set of 13 assessment scales, each of which has 9 points. So for instance, in the area of “Personal, social and emotional development,” three of the points include, “shows an interest in classroom activities through observation or participation,” “dresses, undresses and manages own personal hygiene with adult support” and “displays high levels of involvement in self-chosen activities.” The practitioner records each point that the child achieves in each scale and collates it in the form of a Foundation Stage Profile booklet.

However, the introduction of the Foundation Stage Profile raises pertinent questions about the role of assessment, especially for this age group. The use of assessment scales and a system of points serve to drive the curriculum toward an outcome-driven and assessment-led approach, even as both the principles of the Profile and Foundation Stage Guidance claim to achieve the contrary. The assessment scales reinforce the “downward pressure” on Early Years settings to adhere to a “tick-chart” list of developmental achievement and render the curriculum more formal. The ambiguity in the descriptions of some of the assessment points also makes it difficult to quantify or qualify the achievements of the child. The progress and development of children are often uneven, as they do not fit neatly into separate compartments nor can they be checked against a definitive list of points.

The Guidance was developed in response to lobbying from practitioners for a less formal approach to learning and to some extent it has addressed some of those concerns. Prior to the Foundation Stage Guidance, there was no formal recognition of the value of play for this stage of learning, and this was in part due to the content-driven National Curriculum.


Curriculum philosophy. The underpinning philosophy and values of the Guidance are rooted in the notion that all children are entitled to a curriculum that reflects the needs of each child. However, while the introduction of the curriculum can be seen as a step forward in bringing about a legislated curriculum, it remains to be seen how its implementation impacts on teaching and learning within Early Years settings. Much has been left to the intuition and professionalism of practitioners to make sense of the document, and to make sense of the transition between the two age groups: between the Birth to 3 Matters Framework and the Foundation Stage Guidance. Especially with the latter, the challenge that practitioners face is to put the curriculum into practice. Ultimately, the true strength of the curriculum lies in the hands of the practitioner; in the appropriateness of her training and in her ability to make sense of the curriculum, and implement it in a way that also reflects the child’s social and cultural context. In this light, it remains to be seen if the Guidance lives up to expectations, in realizing the more liberal vision of policy makers and professionals concerned with early years, and in meeting the aspirations of parents and practitioners.

Further Readings: Qualifications and Curriculum Authority/Department for Education and Skills (2000). Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage. London: QCA/DfES; Qualifications and Curriculum Authority/Department for Education and Skills (2003). Birth to 3 Matters. London: QCA/DfES; Qualifications and Curriculum Authority/Department for Education and Skills (2003). Foundation Stage Profile. London: QCA/DfES.

Lynn Ang


Early Childhood Services and Children Under Three in the United Kingdom


Early years policy concerning children under the age of 3 in the United Kingdom has turned 180 degrees in the last sixty years. In post war Britain, the Government and leading advocacy groups were unequivocal in their advice to mothers of children under the age of 2 that they should stay at home. Now, there is exhortation backed by some financial assistance to support parents’ participation in the labor market.

In particular, the Labour Government, over two terms from 1997 to 2004, has introduced policies on the under threes which are based on the assumption that the first 36 months of life represent a critical opportunity in which to address the roots of lifelong disadvantage and inequality. In making this shift, the Government has drawn heavily on the American longitudinal research, especially the Perry High Scope study. Policy development for the youngest children has also been reinforced by emerging evidence from neuroscience, although the interpretation of this as meaning the first thirty-six months are an exclusively critical period has been disputed.



Compared to the long period of public policy neglect of the under threes, policy development in the last ten years has been dramatic and in three directions. The first of these is a major emphasis on compensatory intervention aimed at reducing disadvantage, through a program known as Sure Start. Sure Start initially prioritized families with children under the age of 4 in the 20 percent most disadvantaged wards (administrative districts). It focused funding on the development of services with a broad range of social and health intended outcomes. For example, it developed services to reduce the rates of smoking to improve birth weights and increase the rates of breast-feeding. However, while one of the goals of Sure Start is to help counter poverty, it has been estimated that even extending the program to 30 percent of the most disadvantaged wards would still leave 30 percent of the poorest children unreached.

The second policy goal has been to improve the quality and availability of nursery provision in order to improve educational outcomes for all children, including the under threes. The main approach here was the generous funding of a national network of nurseries (Centres of Early Excellence), designated on the basis of their capacity to work with children from three months and their families. In addition to the “excellence” of their educational provision, these centers have been expected to demonstrate how social (family support and child care for working parents) and educational provision can be integrated. Centres of Early Excellence also had a “beacon role” and they were intended to act as models of good practice for other local providers. However, both these and Sure Start Centres are being phased out or “rebranded” in favor of new, amalgamated “Children’s Centres,” which offer wider coverage, but which provide less per capita funds. The most recent proposal is the establishment of 3500 Children’s Centres by 2010.



There has been a major push, primarily through economic incentives to the private sector and tax credits to parents, to expand the number of child care places for under threes for working parents. This has been almost entirely taken up by middle income rather than low-income families, as intended (see Finance entry, below). This primarily market driven approach to provision through demand side funding (money given to parents rather than directly to services) means that there is a continual sharp pressure to drive nursery costs down (meaning a poorly paid, poorly qualified, and high-turnover workforce) while actual nursery fees for working parents are disproportionately high in relation to most incomes.

This mixed economy of private and public provision, while being seen politically as the fastest route to expansion of places and reductions in inequality, has generated its own tensions and inequalities. Until 1990, early years services in practice meant mainly part time nursery education for 3- and 4-year-olds. Despite the rapid developments in policy to enable under threes to “catch up,” in many respects, the “bolting on” of services for children under three to historically well-established educational provision for 3- and 4-year-olds has led to major philosophical and organizational tensions.


Training and Quality of Care

Organizational tensions have included the inevitable difficulties of bringing together the different professional groups that have been involved in the care and education of young children, mainly nursery nurses and nursery teachers. These groups have very different trainings, pay, conditions of service and status. Historically, they have been subject to different inspection arrangements, the former to do mostly with health and safety issues and the latter with a mainly education remit. This has been an issue for the whole early years workforce. However, for under threes, the workforce has been largely drawn from nursery nurses who have had a basic vocational training.

The Government, anxious to promote educational outcomes, has insisted that senior posts in the new government-funded Children’s Centres will only go to those with qualified teacher status or with a postgraduate qualification. All regulatory and inspection functions (compulsory for all education and childcare premises in the United Kingdom) have been reallocated into a single inspection service within Of STED, the education inspectorate agency. These changes in provision, promotion opportunities, training, regulation and inspection have left nursery nurses, who despite their basic training were likely to have more expertise with children under three, often feeling marginalized and devalued. Services for children under three run the risk of being conceptualized as merely an extension of nursery education for 3- and four-year-olds, while early years services in general are conceptualized as merely an extension of statutory schooling (see the Early Years Curriculum—United Kingdom entry).

A further major difficulty is that as the under threes sector has rapidly expanded, workforce development has struggled to keep up. Half the workforce is unqualified and the remainder often qualified to a relatively low level, certainly not graduate level. Mindful of this, the Government commissioned the development of materials (The Birth to Three Matters Framework) to support those working with under threes. However, given the highly diverse experience and training of the workforce, this Framework has had to be pitched at a basic level. Further, its implementation is very much at the discretion of individual nurseries and opportunities for working with it are highly varied.


Philosophical Divide

At a deeper level than these important organizational issues, the expansion of provision for babies and under threes has raised philosophical questions about the upbringing of the youngest children. Some of this has been due to a deep-rooted national suspicion of any nonmaternal care of babies and very young children. Anxiety about the adequacy of any provision for babies that is nonmaternal is a continuing theme in media debate.

This anxiety has been underpinned by emerging evidence from two major studies showing that high levels of poor quality group care before the age of 3 may be associated with increased levels of antisocial behavior or lower levels of emotional regulation by the age of 3. The required ratios for group care of under threes in the United Kingdom are much more generous than in most countries but politicians have again questioned whether there is enough consistency of adult attention in most nurseries to enable infants to establish effective emotional regulation.

Developments in national standards and the training of the under threes workforce have reflected some of these concerns. A central principle of the Birth to Three Framework has been the importance of consistency and sensitivity of care in staff interactions with babies and under threes. This has been provided through the role of the “key person,” a member of staff with responsibility for most of the day-to-day care of a small group of three or four children. Implementation of the key person role however is contentious and very variable. This is partly for organizational reasons—it very much reduces flexibility in the deployment of staff. However, it is also partly because the role places a particular emphasis on the importance of one to one relationships between infants and adults, to the detriment of other relationship opportunities in the nursery.

This issue is also evident in the National Standard, which has an additional Annex devoted to work with under twos. The tone of the standards is very much to emphasize the vulnerability of these youngest children and the importance of health and safety. Little is made of their resilience and the extended opportunities for interaction that care outside the home can provide.



At the close of the second Labour Government, provision in the United Kingdom for children under three has been the subject of major development. But it is development built on a number of major fault lines that continue to provoke contradictions and confusions.

The next phase of policy development will be shaped by a new Ten Year Child Care strategy. Almost certainly as a result of anxiety about the impact of nonparental care in the first 12 months, the strategy proposes an extension of parental leave to nine months (by April 2007) with the intention of a further extension to 12 months, to be shared by both parents, by 2010. However, it is doubtful if serious shifts in quality and accessibility can be achieved as long as philosophically there are basic, unresolved, conflicts of values.

Further Readings: Bruer, J. T. (1997). Education and the brain: A bridge too far. Educational Researcher 26(8), 4-16; Department for Education and Employment (1999). National Child Care Strategy 1999; Department for Education and Employment (2001). National Standards of Day Care Provision; Department for Education and Skills (2002). Birth to three matters: A framework for supporting early years practitioners. DfES Sure Start Unit; Gerhardt, S. (1994). Why love matters: How affection shapes a baby’s brain. London: Routledge; HM Treasury (2005). Choice for parents, the best startfor children: A ten year strategy for childcare. London. The Stationery Office. Available online at www.hm-treasury.gov.uk; House of Commons All Parliamentary Group for Children (2005). Minutes of the Joint Meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Groups for Childcare, children, maternity, parents and families. February 8, 2005; Land, D. (2004). Women, child poverty and child care. Day Care Trust Policy Paper; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Early Child Care Research Network (1997). The Effect of Infant Child Care on Infant-Mother Attachment Security: Results of the NICHD Study of Early Child Care. Child Development 68(5), 860-879; Penn, H. (1997). Comparing nursersies—staff and children in Italy, Spain and the UK. London: Paul Chapman; Sylva, K., E. C. Melhuish, P. Sammons, I. Siraj-Blatchford, and B. Taggart (2004). The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) Project: Technical Paper 12 - The Final Report: Effective Pre-School Education. London: DfES / Institute of Education, University of London; Trevarthen, C. (2004). Making friends with infants. Paper Presented at Pen Green Conference, July 3, 2004. Edinburgh: Dept. of Psychology, The University of Edinburgh.

Peter Elfer



The Background to Current Legislation

The process toward a more inclusive education system for children with special educational needs began with Warnock’s review of provision (1978). The major recommendation of the Warnock Report in the United Kingdom relates to the terminology used, and the underlying concepts implied by it. Using language such as “mentally handicapped” and “retarded” to classify children was identified as being within a medical deficit model framework. Thus, such language suggested that the “problem” was within the child rather than as a critique of the system or the type of provision on offer. This medical deficit terminology was therefore abandoned for the more generic term of “special educational need” (SEN).

However, even today, terminology still remains a contentious issue, with current critique concerning the concept of “special,” “additional” and “need.” Some conditions are themselves medically uncertain. For example, the diagnosis of “autistic spectrum disorder” is open to a wide variety of interpretations, and treatment might vary considerably. A further complication of terminology concerns the additional funding for provision or extra support often requested by parents or professionals working with children with special educational needs. The funding mechanism requires evidence of assessment that a special need exists and there is a perception that giving a child a specific label will ensure that funding follows. In addition, there are ambiguities within government legislation that aim to promote the notion of inclusion, while at the same time continuing to use terms rooted within the medical deficit model.

The Warnock Report was also significant because it recommended that professionals should work in partnership with parents; that there should be early identification of SEN; and that there should be an increase in working together in multidisciplinary teams. However, since the report was published the concept of partnership between parents and professionals and working together in multidisciplinary teams remains problematic, and its existence and its impact is difficult to measure. There is little direct evidence that the injunction to work in partnership has had an impact in terms of quality and effective delivery of provision to meet the individual needs of children with special educational needs.

Warnock (1978) promoted the concept that “all children should be the responsibility of all teachers.” However, the recent appointment of Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCOs) to coordinate provision for children with special needs in schools suggests that responsibility for children with special educational needs is being viewed by other members of primary and secondary school staff as solely the responsibility of the SENCO.


Current UK Legislation

Current legislation in the United Kingdom regarding children with special educational needs (SEN) is arguably the most radical to date, and for the first time gives children with disabilities civil rights. The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (SENDA) 2001, which came into effect in September 2002, embraces the full range of education provision, including early years settings, schools, and universities. This legislation begins with the premise that all children and young people will be placed in mainstream provision as opposed to a separate special school provision. Recent trends in England and Wales indicate a decrease in pupils being placed in special schools (Norwich, 2002). Over the past two decades, Local Education Authorities (LEAs) have had their powers reduced by a raft of legislation, but they still retain responsibility for ensuring that education provision is made for children with special educational needs. In the light of the demands of SENDA, many LEAs are reviewing their special school provision. As a result, the future for special schools is currently uncertain. A further issue is that the language contained within the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (SENDA) 2001 is, despite efforts at clarification, still problematic and likely to require legal challenge to establish what inclusion actually means.


Early Education and Care

Early years provision, compared to other sectors of education provision, has been a leading force in developing inclusive policies and in identifying areas of positive practice for children with special educational needs.

Guidance from the government for all early years settings in receipt of any Department for Education and Skills (DfES) direct or indirect funding requires that they have “regard to the Code of Practice” (2001) in the early identification of a special educational need. All early years providers are expected to have a written SEN policy and to identify a staff member as the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO). Funding has been provided by the DfES for the professional development of SENCOs to ensure that national standards can be met. In the past, much of this funding has been targeted toward professional teachers working in primary and secondary schools. The training needs of those professionals have been largely determined on a local basis by the individual LEAs rather than as a systematic national program. This funding has now been extended to address the professional development of SENCOs in the early years sector through a program of nationally recognized training for all practitioners working in the early years (DfES, 2004) There are concerns about the assumption that training and expertise from one sector of education can be easily transported to, or is desirable in another, that is, from primary or secondary schooling to early years care.

To provide effective early intervention strategies for children with special educational needs, the UK government is also promoting an integrated approach to children’s services. Crucial to this is the concept of the multidisciplinary team of health, education, and social services providing “joined up” assessment procedures and shared access to the records. To accommodate this shared access, a common database has been developed so that professionals working with a child can now easily share information. It is envisaged that one professional in the team will be responsible for coordinating the team in their work with individual families. Parents will certainly welcome the reduction of what often amounts to duplication of information (Mittler, 2000) by the introduction of the named professional acting as a conduit for the multidisciplinary team as a whole. However, this “named person” role is problematic because of the status of the named professional within the multidisciplinary team and because of the lack of training available for that person to manage a complex “team” with frequently competing professional agendas, funding mechanisms, and time constraints. There is also a continuing debate in the United Kingdom regarding the nature of the use of databases and implications for civil liberties. This debate has yet to be resolved.

The move toward inclusive provision has cost implications that cannot be underestimated, both in terms of training professionals working with children with special educational needs in inclusive settings, and raising the professional status of practitioners working in the early years.

Further Readings: DES (1978). Report of the Committee of Enquiry into the Education of Handicapped Children and Young People (The Warnock Report). London: HMSO; Department for Education and Skills (2001). The code of practice on the identification and assessment of special educational Needs. London: HMSO; Department for Education and Skills (2001). Special educational needs and disability act. London: HMSO; Department for Education and Skills (2003). Every child matters. London: HMSO; Department for Education and Skills (2004). Removing barriers to achievement. London: HMSO; Corbett, J. (1996). Bad mouthing: The language of special needs. London: Falmer Press; Mittler, P. (2000). Working towards inclusive education: Social contexts. London: David Fulton; Norwich, B. (2002). LEA Inclusion Trends in England 1997-2001: Statistics on Special Schools Placements and Pupils with Statements in Special Schools. Bristol: CSIE.

Helen Masterton


Children’s Health and Well-Being

Children who are emotionally and physically healthy have the energy and motivation to play, explore, experiment, learn, and form relationships with others. A healthy childhood is not only important in its own right, it also lays the foundations for health in adult life. The focus of UK health policy has recently begun to reflect the need to ensure children’s emotional and social well-being alongside their physical health.

Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC 1989) details the child’s right to health, beginning with the basic necessities of clean drinking water and adequate nutritious foods. Article 24 refers to the differing global expectations for children’s health, stating in section one that the child has the right to the “highest attainable standard of health.” The need to ensure children’s physical survival has to date focused attention on children’s physical health with much less attention being given to social and emotional health.

National Health Service in the United Kingdom provides free health care and prescriptions for all children, and has traditionally reflected the emphasis on physical well-being. The development of comprehensive immunization programs, welfare foods, and child health clinics is supported by the inspection of water, sanitation, food, hygiene etc. by a variety of government agencies. However, in stating that a child has a right to the highest attainable standard of health, the UNCRC has set aspirational goals for children’s social and emotional well-being alongside their physical health. In the United Kingdom there are major health concerns about the large number of young children living in relative poverty, experiencing behavior difficulties or mental health problems and those eating nutritionally poor diets and taking little exercise. In addition, a recent well-publicized case, the tragic death of Victoria Climbie at the hands of her foster parents, acted as a catalyst in highlighting the need for reform of children’s services and for ensuring that children’s voices should be heard in matters that concern them.

Families in the United Kingdom are experiencing many changes. As divorce and separation rates increase and support from traditional networks decrease, there is growing recognition that in the twenty-first century children’s health, at least in developed countries where epidemics are relatively unknown, is determined more by social, environmental, and economic factors than by biological disorders.


Children Living in Relative Poverty

In 1979, when the Conservative government came into power, one in ten children were being raised in families living on 50 percent or less of the average income. When the Labour Government took office in 1997 the number of children being raised in poor households had risen to a staggering one in three. This fall into poverty that many families experienced has had dramatic effects on children’s physical and emotional health. The Labour Government commissioned an independent inquiry into inequalities in health and the committee chaired by Sir Donald Acheson (1998) recommended that a high priority should be given to the health of families with young children and that further steps should be taken to improve the living standards of poor families. The government has subsequently pledged to tackle health inequalities and to end child poverty within a generation. It has raised the threshold for defining poverty from 50 percent to 60 percent of median income. The United Kingdom has developed a range of poverty indicators and recent research shows that an interim target of a 25 percent reduction in the number of children living in households with below 60 percent median income by 2005 is likely to be met, although long-term goals are more problematic (see the Poverty entry).

The impact of health inequalities on children’s educational achievement has been recognized. The Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills introduced the National Healthy Schools Standard where schools are encouraged to show a commitment to promoting emotional and physical health in order to reduce health inequalities, promote social exclusion and raise educational standards. Some schools in disadvantaged areas have also introduced school breakfast clubs to ensure a healthy start to the day. There has been increasing concern over the amounts of high fat, high sugar convenience foods that form part of many children’s diets and the resulting levels of overweight and obesity amongst children. The national school fruit scheme was introduced in 2001, with the aim that every child between 4 and 6 years should be offered a piece of fresh fruit every day. Interestingly, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has recently exposed the poor quality and lack of funding for school dinners in a popular television series. The result of this has been an announcement of tougher minimum standards for school dinners from 2006, and new minimum standards for processed foods to limit the amount of fat, salt, and sugar in products such as burgers, sausages, and cakes.


Supporting Families

Emotional and behavioral problems are now the foremost cause of functional disability in children, and concern has increasingly been expressed about the number of children in the United Kingdom who are exhibiting evidence of mental health problems. Bright Futures, the report from the Mental Health Foundation (1999), describes the incidence of mental health problems as follows:

.... there are approximately 14.9 million children and young people under twenty living in the UK, representing 25% of the population. It is calculated that at any one time, 20% of children and adolescents experience psychological problems.

There has been increased recognition over the past two decades of the role of families and parenting in influencing children’s social and emotional development. In 1999 the government produced a consultation paper “Supporting Families,” to explore how families could be supported in their parenting role. It introduced the government’s aspirations for family advice, work life balance, and tackling problems such as domestic violence. Subsequently, a National Family and Parenting Institute has been established to study and support family life. (Part of its funds have been devoted to Sure Start schemes to work innovatively in partnership with families with children under 4 years in disadvantaged areas—see introductory section, and sections on under twos and on poverty). Sure Start schemes have made a particular effort to incorporate health services. They have encouraged health, social services, education, and voluntary sector workers to work in partnership. But Sure Start projects are gradually being transformed into or merged with Children’s Centres (see introductory section). These centers will now be funded (although not necessarily provided by) by local authorities and will focus on early education and encouraging parents to gain employment. Health workers will be separately funded, raising concerns about whether the innovative partnership services to support families and promote health and well-being can continue to be developed.


Protecting Children’s Health and Well-Being

The death of Victoria Climbie, who was tortured by her foster parents, resulted in a public inquiry to investigate how such a tragedy could happen. The report highlighted many failings in the services to protect children. This led to a government consultation paper that outlined major changes to services. In particular the paper, Every Child Matters, emphasized five outcomes:

• Being healthy: enjoying good physical and mental health and living a healthy lifestyle

• Staying safe: being protected from harm and neglect

• Enjoying and achieving: getting the most out of life and developing the skills for adulthood

• Making a positive contribution: being involved with the community and society and not engaging in anti-social or offending behavior

• Economic well-being: not being prevented by economic disadvantage from achieving full potential in life

This paper laid the foundations for the new Children Act 2004, which also makes the provision for a new Children’s Commissioner to act as an independent champion for children, particularly those suffering disadvantage.

Children in the United Kingdom had often been overlooked in a health service provision and services from one area to another were often fragmented. In 2004, a new National Service Framework (NSF) was introduced to set national health standards for children, young people and maternity services. This NSF focuses on early child-centered interventions with a new health promotion program to promote the health of children from conception to adulthood and a remit to tackle health inequalities.

There has been much recent progress in children’s health policy but there is still much to be done. Many issues that impact on children’s health (for instance domestic violence, or the responsibilities of being a “young carer”) are only recently being highlighted. The focus is shifting from physical health to include mental health and well-being and toward listening to young children and their families, in an attempt to ensure that the highest attainable standards of health might be reached.

Further Readings: Acheson, Sir D. (1998). Independent inquiry into inequalities in health report. London: TSO; Bone, M., and H. Meltzer (1989). The prevalence of disability among children. OPCS Surveys of disability in Great Britain, Report 3. London: HMSO; DSS (Department of Social Security) (1999a). Households Below Average Income: A Statistical Analysis 1979 -1995/96. London: HMSO; Department of Social Security (DSS) (1999b). Opportunity for all: Tackling poverty and social exclusion, the first annual report. London: HMSO; Hall, D., and Elliman, D. Health for all children. Oxford: Oxford University Press; The Mental Health Foundation (1999). Bright futures. London: The Mental Health Foundation; The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989); United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) (2005). Child Poverty in Rich Countries. Innocenti Report Card No. 6; United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) (2001). The state of the world’s children. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Angela Underdown


Teacher Preparation in the United Kingdom


Training for work in early childhood services in the United Kingdom has historically been split between “care” and “education.” Some kinds of provision have been seen as predominantly offering “care” and provided either because the child was seen to be at risk, or because the mother wanted or needed employment and was therefore unable to care for her child. Others have been seen as predominantly “education” and therefore directly beneficial for the child. Since a Labour Government was elected in 1997 government policies have produced continuous development in the early year’s sector (see Early Childhood Education in the United Kingdom entry, above). Many policymakers and researchers hoped that these traditional understandings of care and education would be challenged in general, in the field of training in particular.


Recent Reforms

The Government paper, Every Child Matters, produced partly in response to a notorious child abuse case (see section on health), put forward major proposals for workforce reform in the care sector to ensure better protection for children. It aimed to improve the outcomes for children and produce a better integration of all services to children. The five outcomes envisioned were that children should be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution, and achieve economic well-being. The implementation of these aims entailed major changes to a diverse range of regulations, including inspections, standards, and qualifications. The identification of a “common core of skills, knowledge, and competence for the widest possible range of workers in children’s services” (DfES, 2004) was seen as a necessary step forward. Reviews of the National Standards have been conducted for both Under 8’s Daycare and Child minding. Additional reviews have examined the National Occupational Standards (NOS) for Early Years Care and Education. Finally, revisions have been made to the qualifications framework for the children’s workforce, including identifying a common core of skills and knowledge based on the five outcomes. A new Children’s Workforce Development Council was also set up as part of the new Sector Skills Council for Social Care, Children and Young People.

During the time that these developments were undertaken by the Children’s Workforce Unit of the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), another section (the Schools Workforce Unit) was also examining reform. However, these two different sections of the DfES, arriving separately at their conclusions, indicate the continuing divide in the way the children’s workforce is conceptualized. Early year’s teachers who have Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) are considered to be part of the schools’ workforce, regulated by the Teacher Training Agency (TTA) and the General Teaching Council (GTC) while other child “care” workers are regulated by the Children’s Workforce Development Council- a body in which, unlike the TTA, private employers are represented.


Early Childhood Education Staff Training Programs

The divisions outlined above are mirrored in the continuing divisions in content and levels of training. A qualified childcare worker at a supervisory level will have a level 3 National Qualifications Framework (NQF) qualification. This normally implies a two-year postsecondary education and training, which can be gained before the age of 18. A QTS teacher—as indicated below—is expected to demonstrate much higher levels of knowledge and competence.


Vocational qualifications. The level 3 NQF qualification can be gained by one of two main routes. One approach is to obtain a college diploma program that includes practicum placements. Alternately, students may obtain a vocational qualification (NVQ) via an employment-based route. The latter relies on outcome and competence assessed performance to achieve the qualification.

The content of these NVQs is being reviewed to match the revised National Occupational Standards (NOS). The standards were revised in 2004 in line with the five outcomes now given legal force in the Children Act 2004 (DfES 2004). They applied no longer only to the early years (0-8), but extended to age 16 and were renamed National Occupational Standards in Children’s Care, Learning and Development.

Draft proposals for the revised level 3 NVQ suggest that it should be a nine-unit qualification, comprising five mandatory units. These include the following:

• develop and promote positive relationships;

• develop and maintain a healthy, safe, and secure environment for children;

• promote children’s development;

• reflect on and develop practice; and

• protect and promote children’s rights.

There are also four further units from a choice of thirty-six.

There is also a similar but lower NVQ qualification at level 2 (equivalent to a secondary school diploma) intended for other nonsupervisory workers in nurseries. At present, nearly half the child care workforce has either no qualification and training, or a level 2 qualification. There is high staff turnover and a shortage of skilled staff in the sector.


Teacher training programs. In contrast to the basic vocational level 2 and level 3 qualifications required for qualified child-care workers, qualified early year’s teachers are normally required to complete four years of university level education, that is a basic three-year degree and a professional qualification: the postgraduate certificate of education (PGCE), which takes an additional year to complete. Once students have successfully completed their training and practice, they receive qualified teacher status (QTS). They are then qualified to teach children from age three onward in maintained sector nursery schools and classes. QTS teachers train to “teach across at least two consecutive key stages” (DfES/TTA, 2002). For those training as specialist early years teachers, this corresponds to the Foundation Stage of the National Curriculum (see section on curriculum) for children aged 3-5 and the Key Stage 1, for ages five to seven (See The Early Years Curriculum—United Kingdom entry, above).

Although students may obtain a variety of degrees leading up to the PGCE, the syllabus for the PGCE itself is tightly controlled by the Teacher Training Agency and enforced by frequent OfSTED inspections (Office for Standards in Education). Half of the 36-week course must be spent in mentored school practice. Knowledge of the National Curriculum for the appropriate age group is mandatory. There is relatively little opportunity to acquire any specialist knowledge of child development and early years.


Enhancing professionalism

Early Years QTS teachers have the same pay and conditions as those teaching primary and secondary-age school children. Teachers are therefore better paid and have better conditions of service than any other part of the “childcare/early years” workforce. On average they are likely to be paid almost twice as much as other members of the early years workforce. However, they are a very minor part of this workforce—less than 10 percent, and their training is heavily school based.

One attempt to improve the child care and teaching workforce, as well as to bolster recruitment, has been to introduce Foundation Degrees in Early Years. These are degree courses of two rather than three years, duration aimed at people already in relevant employment, such as nursery assistants working in primary schools. Doing a “Sure Start” Endorsed Foundation Degree would allow existing practitioners to improve their qualifications. Those who wish to continue may complete a further year to acquire an honors degree and/or become a qualified teacher. Unlike three-year honors degrees, in which individual universities decide on the content and delivery of the syllabus, the Sector Endorsed degree is strictly controlled. Those who gain the Foundation Degree can be given the title of “Senior Practitioner.” However, this does not carry an increased salary. Nor is there any statutory requirement within the School Sector to appoint Senior Practitioners. There is some concern that this quick route to a teaching qualification may ultimately prove relatively worthless for those seeking to advance their careers within the sector.

The only current graduate education and training aimed specifically at crossing the care and education divide is the Early Childhood Studies (ECS) degree. The idea of an ECS degree was put forward during the 1980s and 1990s by various campaigners advocating for integrated early education and care provision, long before there was any government commitment to providing universal integrated children’s centres. This integrated ECS degree is on offer to young students just beginning tertiary education, but is also intended to offer a route into training for staff with basic vocational qualifications working in the care sector who constitute the majority of the workforce. About forty higher education institutions now offer Early Childhood Studies degrees, often recruiting mature women from within the sector. These individuals help to professionalize work with children from birth to age eight. Their position differs from that of nursery teachers, who are not currently trained for work with children younger than three and focus mainly on curricular issues.


Future Goals

The government aspires to have a “better qualified workforce.” Prompted by recent UK research which demonstrates that having qualified teachers in the early years improves young children’s subsequent school performance (Sylva, Melhuish, Sammons et al., 2003), the government states two aims. The first is to improve “the qualifications and skills of early years workers, with more trained to degree level.” The second is to ensure that all full day care settings are led by “fit-for-purpose” graduate qualified early year’s professionals, such as pedagogues or “new teachers.” (DfES, 2005, p. 25). So far, a new post-graduate professional qualification, the National Professional Qualification in Integrated Centre Leadership (NPQICL), is being piloted in order to meet the commitment to improve leadership. It has been recognized that workforce reform is necessary, and that a new core graduate professional may be needed. The choices put forward for consultation are between the Danish Social Pedagogue model and the “new” teacher model of Sweden or New Zealand (DfES, 2005). The barriers are a lack of commitment to changing statutory requirements for existing qualifications, especially teaching; and the failure to provide the finance necessary to achieve professional rates of pay and conditions of work throughout the sector.

Further Readings: Department for Education and Skills/Teacher Training Agency (2002). Qualifying to teach. Available online at www.dfes.gov.uk; HMSO (Her Majesty’s Stationery Office). (2004). Children's Act 2004. London: HMSO; Department for Education and Skills (2004). Every child matters: Change for children. Nottingham: DfES Publications. Available online atwww.everychildmatters.gov.uk; Department for Education and Skills (2005). Common core of skills and knowledge for the children’s workforce. Available online at www.dfes.gov.uk; Department for Education and Skills (2005). The children’s workforce strategy. Available online at www.dfes.gov.uk; Sylva, K., E. Melhuish, P. Sammons, L. Siraj-Blatchford, B. Taggart, and K. Eliot (2003). The effective provision of pre-school education (EPPE) Project: Findings from the pre-school period. Summary of findings. London: Institute of Education.

Pamela Calder


Financing Early Care and Education in the United Kingdom

Expenditure Levels

Expenditure on early education and care has been rising since 1997 when the Labour Government took office. The Government currently spends about £1500 per year per child on early years, compared with just over £3000 for a primary-school aged child and just under £4000 for a secondary-aged child.

The distribution of costs of early years education and care in England is illustrated in the chart below. Parents pay 45 percent of total costs of early education and care provision, or approximately 85 percent of the costs of child-care provision. The state contributes 38 percent for nursery education for 3- and 4-year-olds and a further 10 percent for Sure Start and other initiatives, and 5 percent in tax credits—a total of 53 percent of costs. Companies/employers pay approximately 2 percent of the costs.


Government expenditure on early years since 1997


Source: National Audit Office, 2004


How early years provision is paid for 2002-03


Source: National Audit Office, 2004




There are, or have been, a number of other short-term grants available for new initiatives. These include lottery money distributed through the New Opportunities Fund; training funds provided by the Learning and Skills Council (mainly for workplace-based basic vocational qualifications); special antipoverty initiative funds such as the Neighborhood Renewal Fund, Single Regeneration Budget, and New Deal for Communities; and special European Social Fund collaborative programmes. The plethora of these short-term funds, the complicated arrangements for applying for them, and the uncertainty about the future once the grant expires, has deterred people from applying for them and take-up has been less than predicted.

The Daycare Trust conducts an annual survey of childcare costs. The 2005 survey suggests that the costs parents pay to providers have been rising, with the greatest increase in London where there has been an annual rise of 17 percent over 2004/2005. For under-twos there has been a national 7.3 percent rise. Costs generally are high. For a child aged 0-2 the average weekly cost is £138 and for a child aged 3-4, £129. These averages mask considerable differences. The highest reported costs are £350 per child per week in parts of London. There is no evidence that cost is directly related to quality of provision, since all day nurseries must meet minimum requirements for ratios, qualifications, and space and are subject to regular inspection. The costs for child minding, or family day care, are slightly lower. The average weekly cost for a child 0-2 is £129, and for a child aged 3-4, £126. The survey data suggested that for 65 percent of parents affordability was a problem.

Approximately 60-70 percent of costs are staff related, but property costs, especially in London, are also high. Nursery staff, about half of whom have any kind of qualification (usually the most basic), receive the minimum wage or just above. The average gross salary of a child-care worker is £7,800 per annum (compared to £22,662 for a graduate trained primary teacher). Staff turnover is considered to be a problem by 84 percent of providers, suggesting that the workforce is not stable enough to provide a high-quality service, despite the regulations which are in place. Provider turnover is also high.


Key Questions

The affordability of care for parents, the costs of staffing, and capital costs, particularly in urban areas, are unresolved issues in the Government’s attempts to expand and develop early education and care.

Early education is free for 3- and 4-year-old children, but of short daily duration. Care is very expensive. The Government’s preferred solution has been in the form of tax credits, compensating parents for the costs that they pay toward care. The childcare tax credit was introduced in 1999. However recent research reported by Alakeson suggests that the childcare tax credit mainly benefits middle class families. Unskilled women or lone parents are deterred from working, since the low wages they are likely to earn will not compensate for the benefits they lose by working. The child-care tax credit has almost no direct impact on child poverty. As illustrated above, it only accounts for around 5 percent of the costs of education and care. Any fiscal policy to support child care has to take a wider view of the tax and benefit system.

The child-care sector is characterized by high staff turnover and low levels of qualification. The Government has recognized that its current training requirements for nurseries have been set too low. The most recent Government consultation papers on workforce recruitment and training now suggest that levels of training should be set higher with graduates in management posts (see UK training section). However a better qualified workforce will require higher remuneration, and since the costs parents pay are already high, it is unlikely that they will be able to meet increased costs. The Government has currently set aside £125 million for training, but this is a small proportion of the costs that will be incurred in achieving and maintaining a better-qualified workforce.

Much child-care provision, especially in urban areas, is in converted accommodation, private houses, shop fronts, redundant churches, and so on. Although there are internal space requirements, the requirement for outside space for children can be waived in urban areas. The Government has allocated capital funds to support new buildings in urban areas of deprivation, where entrepreneurs are in any case unlikely to invest capital, but generally nursery stock is poor.

These problems of creating more nursery provision in poor districts, coupled with evidence from cost-benefit studies that suggest investment in early education and care brings significant returns in terms of education outcomes for children and for women’s employment, have led some organizations to argue for a major shift from demand led child care to supply led child care, including a rethinking of the tax and benefit system. The consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers were asked to cost various aspects of early years services, for example, parental leave, setting out costs as a percentage of GDP, and suggesting what level of parental contribution could reasonably be expected for each aspect. The likely increase in total costs were projected over a ten-year period. In a separate cost-benefit exercise, not listed here, Price Waterhouse Cooper also estimated the extra revenue that would accrue to the Exchequer as a result of greater workforce participation and in terms of improved circumstances for children who received early childhood services. They concluded that the increased costs could be gradually met, and would be significantly offset by increased revenue.


Estimated costs of vision for early years provision 2020




Cost to government


Parental contribution

(% GDP)

Total cost (% GDP)

£billion at 2004/2005 GDP values

12 months parental leave

Home care allowance for 1-year-olds

Subsidized care alternative for 1-year-olds

20 hours pw free education for 2- to 4-year-olds

Wrap around care for 2- to 4-year-olds

Holiday/after-school care for 5- to 14-year-olds

Total costs





























Source: PricewaterhouseCoopers report in Alakeson, The Social Market Foundation, 2005


Build-up of costs over time: SMF vision vs 10 year childcare strategy


Source: PricewatherhouseCoopers report in Alakeson. The Social Market Foundation, 2005


There is an additional argument about whether provision should be publicly provided or whether the private market is sufficiently flexible to provide accessible and affordable childcare for all. Early education is mainly provided in the public sector, child care in the private sector. The Government has acknowledged that in poorer districts of the United Kingdom, the local authority has at the very least to oversee, if not directly provide, the development of multipurpose children’s centers which will cater for the poorest and most vulnerable children. An expansion program of 3,500 graduate led children’s centers is currently being commissioned, although at the time of writing the revenue funds needed to run such centers have not yet been costed or allocated. It is unlikely that they will be long-term funding arrangements.

The Government has invested considerable new money in early education and care but it still spends less than most comparable European countries as a percentage of GDP. Unless both the levels and patterns of expenditure are revised, it is impossible for it to meet its ambitious targets.

Further Readings: Alakeson, V. (2005). Too much, too late: Life chances and spending on education and training. London: Social Market Foundation; Daycare Trust (2005). Annual survey of childcare costs. London: Daycare Trust; National Audit Office (2004). Early years: Progress in developing high quality childcare and early education accessible to all. London: The Stationery Office; PricewaterhouseCoopers (2004). Universal early education and care in 2020: Costs, benefits and funding options. London: Daycare Trust/Social Market Foundation; Toroyan, T., I. Roberts, A. Oakley, G. Laing, M. Mugford, and C. Frost (2003). Effectiveness of out-of-home day care for disadvantaged families: Randomized controlled trial. British Medical Journal 327, 906-909.

Helen Penn