Families may use one, or a combination of, types of childcare depending on their needs and preferences. Parents should be assured that any type of childcare can be beneficial for their family as long as it is high-quality.
A considerable body of evidence has shown the substantial benefits of early years education and care for children. Early years education benefits children’s learning, improves their confidence and peer relationships, and can help to break cycles of poverty.
The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) study has shown that:
Children with no pre-school experience (the ‘home group’) have poorer cognitive attainment, sociability and concentration when they start primary school than those who have some pre-school learning.
Pre-school education improves children’s development and behaviour, and found that children who start pre-school under the age of three years have better peer relationships. Disadvantaged children benefited significantly from good quality pre-school experiences, especially where they were with a mixture of children from different social backgrounds.
Children who attend pre-school enter school with a cognitive advantage and the longer children are in pre-school (in months and years rather than the number of hours per day), the greater the advantage they have.
The positive impacts of high-quality care continue throughout primary school.
The evaluation of the Neighbourhood Nurseries Initiative included some important research findings on quality and children’s outcomes. Children in rooms with well-qualified staff, a good quality physical environment and a well thought through structure to the day were less worried and upset, and more cooperative and sociable. The presence of a qualified teacher, either as a manger or working in the room, was also related to better child outcomes.
Home early learning also has a vital role to play. Research has shown that how parents relate to their children and the activities they do with them have a greater impact on children's development than their socio-economic background.
One of the key findings from Daycare Trust’s ‘Listening to children about childcare’ research was that most children enjoy being in childcare and wish they could have more of it. Most of the children we spoke to said that after school clubs allowed them to make friends and have access to facilities and activities they would not otherwise have. Generally, childcare was seen as a positive influence on children's lives, providing them with opportunities to have fun, make friends, learn and get some independence from their families.
Research into the effects of Sure Start showed that the parents involved felt less isolated, more valued and more confident in their parenting. They also reported feeling a closer bond with their children, who, they felt, were happier, easier to relate to, mixing better and better prepared for learning.
High-quality early learning and childcare, plus better access to services, enables parents and carers who are working or who wish to work, train or learn to have a greater choice in balancing their work and family life. A survey conducted by Contact a Family reported 50% of parents of disabled children as saying that changes in government policy, making childcare more accessible, would lead to a definite lifestyle change. They would go back to work, extend their current hours or pursue further study.
Research for the (then) Department for Education and Skills found that two out of every three mothers who did not have a job would prefer to work or study if they could afford good quality, convenient, reliable childcare. Four out of five single mothers would prefer to work.
Our ‘Listening to children about childcare’ research found that the fact that having childcare allows their parents the freedom to work was seen as the most important benefit of childcare by some children.
Employers are recognising the changing patterns of employment and the implications this has for the management of their workforce. A leaflet produced by the then Department for Education and Skills and the Department of Trade and Industry makes this clear:
‘Supporting childcare can allow [employers] to recruit from a broader pool of talent. It will help to attract the best applicants to vacancies … and to retain staff.’
Childcare often forms part of a wider package of ‘family-friendly policies’ offered by employees, The Second Work-Life Balance Study: Results from the Employer Survey, National Centre for Social Research/BERR (2003) outlines the following benefits:
Making More Great and Affordable Childcare a Reality