Improving Quality in the Early Years

This 14-month research study was funded by the Nuffield Foundation, and carried out by the University of Oxford, Daycare Trust and A+ Education Ltd.

The aim of the research was to compare different quality measures used in England, focusing particularly on the report of the regulatory body Ofsted, the Environment Rating Scales (ECERS and ITERS), and quality assurance schemes.  The University of Oxford and A+ Education Ltd compared the grades awarded by Ofsted for over 1,000 nurseries with their scores on the research-validated ECERS and ITERS rating scales. Daycare Trust carried out focus groups with parents, providers and local authorities to explore how these different measures of quality are understood and used.

Key points:

  • No single measure reflected all the aspects of quality valued by stakeholders, with each meeting different needs according to their purpose. Thus, a broad range of tools is needed to reflect multiple perspectives.
  • Ofsted grades do not necessarily provide a full picture of the quality of settings, particularly for children under the age of 30 months. Some settings judged as outstanding or good by Ofsted were rated as lower quality on the ECERS and ITERS rating scales. The report recommended that Ofsted grades should not necessarily be relied upon as a complete and accurate measure of the quality of practice. This has implications for funding as Ofsted ratings are currently used by many local authorities to determine which nurseries and preschools receive government early years funding for free childcare provision. It also has implications for parents, as Ofsted reports are often the only measure available to help them choose high quality provision for their children.

Download the full report,the research brief and the technical report.

Follow the links to find information about the study on the main University of Oxford website, on the Daycare Trust website and on the Nuffield Foundation website.

Staff: Sandra Mathers and Dr Arjette Karemaker, in collaboration with Daycare Trust and A+ Education Ltd. For information, contact