High-quality early years education and care is a government priority, and the fact that it brings numerous benefits for children, parents and society more widely is beyond doubt. However, there is little consensus on how we should define 'high-quality care' from the perspective of child development. What is the evidence which demonstrates how it can best be achieved in the UK?

This report, part of IPPR's 'Childcare: A strategic national priority?' project, reviews the evidence of both the benefits of quality childcare, and the policies which have been successful in improving standards in the UK and abroad. From this body of knowledge it draws 10 lessons for UK policymakers on how our care system can be improved, providing answers to vital questions such as:

  • Which aspects of early years education and care provision should be prioritised, protected and reformed for different preschool age groups which have very different developmental needs.
  • How graduates can improve the quality of provision and outcomes for children, and how the qualification levels of all early years professionals can be lifted.
  • Where the priority areas are for any additional funding: for example, greater access to high-quality care for children from an early age is more important than extending the hours that older preschool children spend in early learning.
  • Why Ofsted may not always be an accurate judge or effective driver of quality in the early years.
  • What kind of provision has the greatest positive impact on child development.

It also sets out some concrete measures which are easily implementable in the short term, but which could be of great benefit to the next generation of children throughout their lives. Government policy for early years education and care should:

  • prioritise qualifications and ratios to meet age-related developmental priorities
  • use funding mechanisms to boost uptake by the most disadvantaged children in high-quality care settings
  • ensure monitoring and assessment reflects best developmental practice
  • build the professional infrastructure, and accountability and support structures, that is necessary to drive quality.