IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Private sector childcare in England

This project provided important evidence about the reach and impact of private sector childcare in England.

Private sector childcare

A key aim of this project was to consider how regulation used elsewhere in the education sector or in other countries might be used to support, shape and improve private provision in England.

The project was funded by the Nuffield Foundation and ran from February 2019 to February 2022.


In the most recent Department for Education (DfE) 'Childcare and Early Years Provider Survey', almost two-thirds of nurseries classified themselves as private ‘for profit’.

These companies also receive the bulk of childcare subsidies offered by the UK Government, through free places offered to parents of three-, four- and some two-year olds. This is expected to total approximately £3.45 billion at the end of 2018.

Yet, information about these private nurseries is remarkably difficult for parents, the public and the Government to find. To date, there has been very little research on their operation.


This project used publically available information about private nurseries to explore issues of finance, location, continuity, transparency, accountability and governance. 

There were four work streams involved in our work:

  1. Review of the reach of the private childcare industry using market research
  2. Financial analysis of major nursery chains and their subsidiaries
  3. ‘Provision mapping’ to determine the quality ratings of private providers in different local authorities with different levels of deprivation
  4. Case studies of private providers, using desk-based research and telephone interviews. 
Our staff

The project was led by Antonia Simon, senior researcher at the Social Science Research Unit (SSRU) and involves researchers at the Thomas Coram Research Unit (TCRU), University of East London and City University.

Team members

Antonia Simon

Antonia Simon, Principal Investigator and leading work stream three, is based at the SSRU. Antonia has extensive experience of undertaking and managing mixed-methods research projects, with particular expertise in secondary analysis of official statistics, administrative, cross-sectional and longitudinal data. Her research interests include childcare, early years, the early years' and care workforces, children’s wellbeing, children’s diets and trends in ethnicity and poverty. 

Dr Charlie Owen
Charlie Owen, Co-Investigator supporting work stream three, is based at the TCRU. Charlie is an honorary principal research associate at IOE. He has extensive experience of undertaking and managing mixed-methods research projects, with particular expertise in secondary analysis of official statistics and large datasets. His research interests include preschool childcare and education, and looked after children.

Professor Eva Lloyd
Eva Lloyd OBE, project researcher, supporting work streams one and four. Eva is Professor of Early Childhood in the University of East London’s Cass School of Education and Communities and has been Director of International Centre for the Study of the Mixed Economy of Childcare (ICMEC) there, co-founded with Professor Helen Penn, since 2007. Her research and publications focus on (inter)national early education and childcare policies, particularly for disadvantaged children. She collaborated on a range of DfE and Department of Health and Social Care research projects, and provided expert advice to the National Audit Office, National Institute for Clinical Excellence and Department for Work and Pensions, as well as to Scottish, German and Dutch government agencies and non-governmental research agencies. 

Helen Penn
Helen Penn, project researcher, leading work streams one and four. Helen is Professor Emeritus, University of East London and visiting professor at the Thomas Coram Research Unit, IOE. She is an expert on early education and childcare policies. She has worked in many countries for international bodies such as the European Union, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and UNICEF and has a particular interest in childcare in low income countries. She has published many academic books and articles including worldwide studies on private sector childcare. 

Atul K Shah
Atul K. Shah, financial analysis expert leading work stream two. Atul is professor of Accounting and Finance at City University. His research and publications focus on accounting and finance practice and regulation – ethics, culture and political economy. Forensic accounting is his speciality, having analysed a large number of corporate financial statements, including recent commentary in the Financial Times on the collapse of Carillion, HBOS and the fundamental flaws in financial regulation.

Katie Hollingworth
Katie Hollingworth, project researcher at the TCRU. Katie has 10 years experience in conducting research studies using both quantitative and qualitative methods across a range of subject areas relating to children, young people, parenting and families.

Katie Quy
Katie Quy, project researcher at the TCRU. Katie is a psychologist with an interest in child behaviour and development, in particular: emotional well-being; coping and resilience; oppositional behaviour; the role of maternal factors and parenting.