IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Provision and use of preschool childcare in Britain

This study examined how different types of childcare are used by families, who provides childcare and what role informal care plays alongside formal childcare. This research was conducted between 2012 and 2015.



Policy context

Access to childcare matters because it has been shown to be an important vehicle for increasing female employment which in turn helps reduce family poverty. Additionally, studies have concluded that it is only high quality childcare that improves the cognitive and social development outcomes of children, and narrow gaps between disadvantaged children and their peers. 

Quality provision has been shown to be closely associated with staff qualifications: key to achieving ‘good quality’, therefore, is an upskilling of the childcare workforce. Consequently, improving the qualifications profile of the early childhood education and care (ECEC) workforce has been a recurrent government priority. 

For example, the Department for Education (DfE) and the Department of Health (DH) jointly published a major strategic document, Supporting Families in the Foundation Years, which stated the fundamental importance of the early years and recognised the importance of a well-qualified workforce. 

In 2012 Cathy Nutbrown in her review of the workforce called for at least 50 per cent of childcare workers to be qualified to NVQ level 3 by 2013, and in September 2014, a new Level Three Early Years Educator qualification was introduced.

The Study

In the context of these ongoing debates around ‘quality’, we undertook this research between 2012 and 2015. 

Aims and objectives

Aims of the study

The aim of this study was to obtain a better understanding childcare provision and usage in Britain. In particular, we examined patterns of childcare usage, including combinations of formal and informal care, and the childcare workforce in terms of identifying the size of the workforce and who they were.

What we did

We did this by carrying out a secondary analysis of a number of large-scale UK datasets, including the Family Resources Survey (FRS), Childcare and Early Years Survey of Parents (CEYSP), Labour Force Survey (LFS) and Childcare and Early Years Providers Survey (CEYPS). 

The needs of those using childcare and those providing it have thus far been considered separately.  However, only by examining these together can a full picture of usage and provision be obtained. This study uniquely incorporated both perspectives, thereby contributing to the development of policy in this vital area. 

The specific objectives of the research were to:

  1. Examine childcare usage in the Britain, including combinations of formal and informal care, and how the use of care is related to the demographic characteristics of families;
  2. Examine who provides informal childcare, their demographic characteristics and the extent to which they have other caring responsibilities;
  3. Examine the formal childcare workforce – such as nursery nurses, playgroup workers and childminders – including their demographic characteristics, their qualifications and their work patterns.

Project Collaborators

We conducted this research in collaboration with the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), a providers' body, and the Family and Childcare Trust, a charity which campaigns for childcare on behalf of parents. In this way, we included the perspectives of key stakeholders in this research.

Advisory Group

  • Professor Peter Moss, IOE Professor
  • Dick Wiggins, IOE
  • Ludovica Gambaro, IOE
  • Valerie Christian, Department for Work and Pensions
  • Riaz Ali, Department for Work and Pensions
  • Thom Crabbe, Department for Education
  • Ros Harper, Department for Education
  • Neil Leitch, Preschool Learning Alliance
  • Sarah Wellard, Grandparents Plus

The study was commissioned by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of the first phase of its Secondary Data Analysis Initiative (SDAI) programme. 

Media coverage

Antonia Simon. 'A secondary analysis of the provision and use of preschool childcare in Britain'. Presentation to the Thomas Coram Research Unit, 19 May 2015.

Antonia Simon. The formal childcare workforce. Presentation at the 'Provision and Use of Preschool Childcare Key Findings Seminar', 24 June 2015, IOE.

Charlie Owen. Patterns of childcare use. Presentation at the 'Provision and Use of Preschool Childcare Key Findings Seminar', 24 June 2015, IOE.

Antonia Simon, Katie Hollingworth and Charlie Owen. 'Is the quality of preschool childcare, measured by qualifications and pay, improving in Britain?' Presentation to the EECERA 25th Annual Conference, Wednesday 9th September 2015, Barcelona. 

Antonia Simon, Katie Hollingworth and Charlie Owen. 'How does childcare usage compare for different family types in Britain?' Presentation to the EECERA 25th Annual Conference, Wednesday 9th September 2015, Barcelona.

Research outputs

The full report and other outputs will be available for download in due course.


Welcome and Introduction by Peter Moss.

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Provision and use of preschool childcare in Britain by Antonia Simon, Charlie Owen and Katie Hollingworth.

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Patterns of childcare use by Charlie Owen.

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The childcare workforce in the UK: issues for policy makers by Jill Rutter, Head of Policy and Research, Family and Childcare Trust.

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